ZAMBOANGA: Three more soldiers were killed while 52 others were wounded Friday in fierce fighting between troops moving in to dislodge Islamic State-inspired militants from the southern Philippine city of Marawi, the military said.
As they moved in to recapture the Banggolo Bridge, troops engaged militants in gun battles. The bridge is the second crossing the military wants to control.
On Wednesday, troops opened the first one – Mapandi Bridge – to news photographers and reporters. It was described as a vital gateway to the heart of the ruined city and as key supply corridor to the militants.
Only a third critical crossing, the Raya Madaya Bridge, remains under control of the militants, and once that is retaken, fighting would enter its final phase to free Marawi, the military said.
Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, the Regional military chief, told reporters that Banggolo Bridge was already under military control, although troops were receiving return fire as of Thursday afternoon.
“Upon retaking the bridge, we incurred the casualties,” Galvez said, adding that improvised bombs left behind led to the government casualties, including three fatalities.
“The same with Mapandi Bridge, Banggolo is the gateway to the heart of the city. It’s also their supply route that’s why we need to get it,” Galvez said.
The latest casualties brought to 136 the number of troops killed since fighting broke out on May 23. Officials said 620 militants and 45 civilians had also died.
But more than three months after fighting broke out on May 23, none of the key leaders of the militants have been killed, including Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, the regional leader of the Islamic State.
He is believed backed by at least 40 Abu Sayyaf members, local Maute group, and foreign fighters from Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
“We don’t want to underestimate the enemy. They are still capable of inflicting casualties,” Galvez said, adding that all the militant leaders “are still there” in the battle zone.
Asked how many hostages were still being held and what their condition were, Galvez said troops have not “zeroed in” on the actual intelligence information.