ELEVEN soldiers were killed and eight others were injured in a military airstrike meant to restrain the pro-Islamic State (IS) Maute group in Marawi City, according to Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
“A group of our own military army men were hit by our own airstrike,” Lorenzana told the press on Thursday, May 1.
The accident reportedly occurred on Wednesday, May 31, when one of two the military aircrafts missed its target and instead hit the government troopers.
With the announcement of the so-called “friendly fire” incident, the combined death toll has reached 139 as of Wednesday—89 of which were militants, 19 civilians, and 31 from the security forces.
“We are trying to ascertain how it happened that the first hit the target, the second was far off. There must be some mistake there, either the men directing from the ground or the pilot,” Lorenzana said.
Due to the tragedy, Lorenzana said the government might suspend air strikes and “let ground troops do their thing.”
“Probably, we have to limit air strikes to aircraft that can deliver accurately their ordnance,” he added.
In a contradicting facts, however, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has reported 11 soldiers died while 7 others were wounded during bombing error.
“We are deeply saddened by what transpired. We mourn the loss of 11 of our brave harbingers of peace and the wounding of 7 others,” AFP spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla said in a separate press briefing.
Padilla explained, “One of our SF-260 aircraft conducting airstrike that day was successfully hitting its assigned target in its earlier sorties. However, it was unfortunate that the last ordinance round it delivered went wayward for an unknown reason and accidentally hit and caused the lives of our ground forces.”
The Maute group laid siege of Marawi City last week on May 23 amid a government operation to capture Isnilon Hapilon, the supposed leader of IS in Southeast Asia. Houses and facilities were seized and burned down, civilians were held as hostages, and IS banners were reportedly spotted in the area.
The crisis has prompted Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law and suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the entire Mindanao.
Authorities said about 90 percent of Marawi has been retaken by security forces as of Wednesday.
While Padilla said it is up to the the ground commander if air strikes would still be conducted, he noted that the military “will add appropriate measures to ensure that such an incident is avoided.”
50,000 children affected
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Thursday expressed concern on the safety of around 50,000 children affected in the clash between the government forces and militants in Marawi city.
UNICEF Philippines representative Lotta Sylwander said ongoing fighting might severely affect the children’s psychosocial and physical health.
She said some of them were even used as combatants or human shields by the militants against the military.
“We are deeply concerned about any action that may put children’s life and safety at risk and disrupt their overall development or access to basic social services such as education and healthcare,” Sylwander was quoted saying in a Philstar report.
Sylwander also urged the local governments and law enforcement agencies to ensure that schools in Marawi City and surrounding areas would be safe and open on time as the national school calendar begins next week.
“It is important to keep children away from harm and injuries as they return to their communities or schools,” Sylwander added. (Dana Sioson/AJPress)
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