Philippine army captures key pro-IS base in Marawi

MARAWI: The Philippine military said on Sunday it had captured the command centre of IS group supporters who have besieged a southern city for nearly four months.
Security forces have engaged in ferocious street-to-street combat and launched air strikes in their efforts to expel the fighters from Marawi, in a battle that has left 800 dead and raised fears that IS is looking to establish a Southeast Asian base in the Philippines.
The military said it had captured the militants’ control centre in a deadly operation that began on Saturday against a mosque and another building.
“This enormous (military) gain further weakened the terrorist group by denying them their erstwhile command and control hub,” military chief General Eduardo Ano said in a statement.
“As follow up and clearing operations continue, we expect the enemy to yield more previously occupied positions, but not without a fight,” he said. “We are ready for that.”
Colonel Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of the task force battling the militants, said the military had encountered some of the heaviest resistance in recovering the mosque.
Its capture may be a sign that the prolonged fighting with the Maute militant group, whose leaders have pledged allegiance to IS, may be nearing a conclusion, he said.
“We believe we are close to the end. The area where the Maute terrorist group can move is shrinking. We noticed that their resistance is weakening,” Brawner said.
“They are retreating while we are assaulting but in the process of doing so, we are encountering many improvised explosive devices so we cannot just advance. We have to be very careful,” he said.
One soldier was killed and seven others were wounded in the battle, he said. Brawner said they had hoped to rescue numerous civilian hostages when they captured the mosque but they found no one. — AFP