In the battle for Marawi, patience is a virtue » Manila Bulletin News

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Getsy Tiglao

By Getsy Tiglao

 

It’s been a month since the fighting in Marawi City between government forces and the terrorist group Maute-Islamic State, set against the backdrop of martial law in Mindanao. Although the jihadist group’s hold on Marawi has been reduced considerably, they still control, according to the military, four barangays or about 20 percent of the city.

For Metro Manilans just reading the news, this probably seems like too long a battle, with the heartless probably preferring not to read about it every day. But the fighting has to continue for the soul of the city and the stakes are higher for the people of Marawi as they have lost their homes and livelihood, and every day, they are seeing the ruination of their beloved city.

The difficulty being encountered by the military in totally subduing the terrorists is due to a myriad of factors, not the least of which is the military’s lack of counter-insurgency technology and equipment. But despite the challenges, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has proved its mettle, killing 257 terrorists while 62 of its own soldiers have been killed. It has captured several fleeing terrorists, recovered 250 firearms, and helped bring thousands of Marawi residents to safety.

What is apparent from all the evidence and information that has been gathered by the military so far is that this was a battle that was well very well funded, planned, and organized by the Maute-IS. The militants stockpiled on weapons, ammunition, communications equipment, and other contingency supplies. They built bomb-proof basements in their hideouts and even dug tunnels as escape routes, as what their terrorist colleagues in Mosul in Iraq had done.

The discovery of P250 million worth of shabu or crystal methamphetamine in the safe houses of the Maute also confirm the long-held belief that narco-politicians are helping fund the terrorist group. It is clear now that the Maute is no “small-time” Islamic group fighting for their rights: They’re actually a big-time, drug-dealing group of criminals who had no compunction about killing their fellow Muslims or their Christian neighbors.

They’re also drug users, the military said, as seen in the drug paraphernalia they left behind. This is also one reason why the Maute appeared to be “very energetic” fighters who needed no sleep: They were high on drugs.

Revelations like these are important for Filipinos to know in order to understand why the military operation in Marawi is taking so long. There are other factors as well, such as the extra care the military is taking to ensure the safety of civilians (some 500 to 1,000 civilians may still be trapped in the city). The AFP doesn’t intend to bomb indiscriminately, including any Muslim mosques, despite reports that these are religious sites are being used by the terrorists as their hideouts.

Another element is the city’s design of tightly packed houses and other structures despite having a population of just over 200,000. The maze-like arrangement that makes it easier for the militants to quickly appear, shoot, and escape. That’s why the military said they have resorted to checking every house and building, floor by floor, room by room, just to make sure they catch every last terrorist who is hiding.

Furthermore, the Maute’s sponsors have deep pockets and this includes not only the drug lords and corrupt local politicians, but also the world’s nemesis, IS (formerly known as ISIS or ISIL). Maute fighters are using expensive and high-powered arms, including machine guns and rifles with grenade projectiles. In addition, the IS global network brought in foreign “imports” to help fight government troops, including jihadists from Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Chechnya, and Yemen.

The IS became a rich organization following its capture of Mosul in 2014, which enabled it to grab the money and gold in all the banks in what was then the second largest city in Iraq. That crucial takeover also gave IS control of eight oil fields, and through this they are getting richer by the day. Intelligence estimates put the IS wealth at $3 billion. That’s why it is easy for them to fund branches in disparate areas such as Africa, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia, including the Philippines.

Another arduous point, as noted by President Rodrigo Duterte, is the state of mind of these jihadists: “It’s difficult to fight an enemy that wants to die.” Indeed, the IS militants believe that if they die or are killed in the name of Allah they will be presented with 72 virgins in Heaven. This is not only a distortion of the beliefs of Islam, it is also, unfortunately for them, a mistranslation.

Nowhere in the Koran is there a promise of virgins for suicide bombers. “The Arabic word for virgin has been mistranslated,” said Islam scholar Irshad Manji. “The original word that was used in the Koran was the word for ‘raisin,’ not ‘virgin.’ In other words, that martyrs would get raisins in heaven, not virgins.”

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