Militants dug in for protracted battle

MARAWI CITY: Militants holed up in a southern Philippines town stocked weapons and food in places of worship, tunnels and basements to prepare for a long siege, officials said on Monday as the battle for control of Marawi City came to the end of its second week.
Their comments underlined the level of organisation among fighters linked to the IS group, whose ranks of several hundred included foreigners from Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Saudi Arabia, Chechnya and Morocco.
The United States on Monday gave the Philippines hundreds of machine guns, pistols and grenade launchers, which a local commander said would be used against militants battling troops in the southern city.
The weapons, including machine guns capable of firing thousands of rounds a minute, were handed over at a ceremony in Manila that highlighted a decade-old American counter-terrorism assistance programme to the Philippines worth about $150 million.
“This equipment will enhance the (Philippine Marines’) counterterrorism capabilities, and help protect (troops) actively engaged in counterterrorism operations in the southern Philippines,” a US Embassy statement said.
Philippine Marines chief Major General Emmanuel Salamat said at the ceremony troops would use the weapons in the ongoing battle against militants in the southern city of Marawi.
The battle for Marawi City has raised concerns that the ultra-radical IS is building a Southeast Asia base on the island of Mindanao at the southern end of the Philippines.
Parrying questions on why the fighters had been able to resist an onslaught from the Philippines army for so long, senior officers said the main problem was that 500-600 civilians were still trapped in the urban heart of the town.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said on Saturday that Marawi City would be fully liberated within three days, but on Monday officials were more circumspect on the timing and gave conflicting estimates of how many combatants were holding out.
Major General Carlito Galvez, head of the military command in Western Mindanao region, said as many as 200 fighters from the Maute militant group and others were still inside the town, and had made preparations in advance for a drawn-out standoff.
“In houses we take over, we see .50 calibre, .30 calibre, and the ammunitions are huge. And the Maute, even if they fight two months they will not starve here,” he told a news conference about one kilometre from the fighting.
— Reuters/AFP