By Genalyn Kabiling
The government admitted on Friday that it was unable to meet its self-imposed deadline to flush out Maute extremists in Marawi City after the troops faced some difficulties, including the rebels’ use of civilians as human shields.
Armed Forces spokesman Restituto Padilla admitted the troops have calibrated their movement to avoid endangering the lives of civilians trapped in the conflict.
“Based on the report that we’re getting, I don’t think we can meet that deadline today (June 2) to completely — I’d like to qualify that — to completely free Marawi of every single armed element in every street,” he said in a Palace press conference.
“Compounding the situation on the ground is the use of these forces, these armed elements, of children and civilians as human shields,” he said.
Padilla said the troops would abide by the rules of engagement when faced with such “complexity of war,” citing their commitment to ensure the safety and protection of women and children.
“Sinisigurado na wala silang kasama. Mahirap gumalaw kapag may dalang sibilyan na gamit na shield. Yung sundalo hindi talaga magpapaputok,” he said.
“There are international protocols related to this kaya nag-iingat tayo. We have to protect children, we have to protect women, we have to protect innocent lives,” he said.
Apart from the use of human shields, Padilla said the armed groups have also turned the madrasahs into staging areas and the mosque as sniper nest. Such tactics were employed by the rebels in their hope “to limit the movement of our forces and their capability to neutralize them,” he added.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier set June 2 as the government’s deadline to end the Marawi seige launched by the Maute group more than a week ago. Lorenzana is the government’s martial law administrator.
Padilla made clear that deadlines are “relative to the amount of resistance that still exists and the threat in the area.”
“It was a deadline that was set forth and provided by the Secretary of National Defense so we can aim for it. But the final decision actually rests on the ground commander,” he said.
For now, Padilla said the military is doing its best to accomplish their mission, mainly to clear Marawi of armed elements and rescue trapped residents immediately.
He said the military will continue to apply commensurate power on these threats as pockets of resistance, including the use of air strikes despite the recent botched bombing run that left 10 soldiers dead.
He said the enemies have presently occupied commercial buildings as their “defensible enemy lairs” which are now the subject of military action.
He said the botched air strike in Marawi City is currently under investigation by the Board of Inquiry. “The aircraft and the crew involved have all been pulled out and are administratively back in their headquarters for debriefing as well as counseling,” he said.
Lorenzana earlier said the military might limit or suspend air strikes to prevent hitting soldiers deployed in the area.
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