‘No failure of intelligence in Marawi’

The Philippine Star
�No failure of intelligence in Marawi�

President Duterte said the government was aware that firearms were being stockpiled in Mindanao but took it for granted because of the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). AP, File

MANILA, Philippines - The crisis in Marawi City was not caused by a failure of intelligence but by connivance between local warlords and terrorists who stockpiled firearms in the city and the “soft” policy towards rebels, President Duterte said yesterday.

Duterte said the government was aware that firearms were being stockpiled in Mindanao but took it for granted because of the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). 

“We have adopted a very soft policy towards the rebels and this came about because they were bringing firearms. Since we are thinking of getting peace with the MNLF and MILF. The game there involves firearms. We took it for granted. We just allowed it to happen because we never knew until that time who was really the enemy,” Duterte told the troops in Butuan City. 

“When they see firearms and they were told that it’s for MILF or MNLF, the standing order was maybe we can talk to our brothers so there will be no trouble (but) it turned out that the Maute were bringing the firearms surreptitiously and we did not know how much ammunition and firearms were stockpiled, and besides it was not a failure of intelligence,” he added. 

Appearing in public for the first time in nearly a week, Duterte said the terrorists seem to have an “endless supply” of firearms and ammunition because of the assistance of corrupt local warlords. 

“But all the while, the Maute (was conniving with) politicians there, the warlords, and were stockpiling. That’s why they do not run out of M203 bullets,” he said, noting many soldiers were hit by that type of bullet. 

Duterte confirmed extremists from Indonesia, Syria, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Kuwait joined the Maute terrorists in the clashes with government troops. 

He said the presence of foreign fighters from the Islamic State (IS) group among the Maute militants in Marawi has made the fighting more difficult.

“You have a conglomeration there of ISIS fighters from Syria, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lankan and Arabs,” Duterte said.

“We have to use the air assets because we are up against fighters from the Middle East and they have learned the art of brutal killing – they will burn you, behead you,” he said.

Duterte expressed wonder why local officials did not report to him the presence of foreigners in their area. He stressed that the IS brought a “corrupted” form of Islam that endorses the killing of innocent persons. 

“The fighting is going on. It is winding up but at the cost of the soldier also. That is the danger posed by the Maute and ISIS. Be watchful of that,” he said.

Duterte said the war against Islamist militants is proving to be difficult.

“It’s hard to fight with people who want to die,” he said, referring to the Islamic extremists’ belief that they would go to paradise if they die fighting infidels or non-Muslims. 

The President has ordered the military to nip extremism in the bud and to use air assets to flush out the militants from the city.

Center of gravity

 Government troops yesterday pounded the Maute militants holding parts of southern Marawi City with air strikes and artillery as more soldiers were deployed and the death toll exceeded 300 after nearly a month of fighting.

Fires erupted and dark plumes of smoke rose from enclaves still occupied by the militants as the Air Force staged bombing runs to support ground troops struggling to dislodge the fighters from entrenched positions.

MG520 attack helicopters and FA50 fighter jets were used in the raids, while sustained bursts of automatic gunfire could be heard in the distance, indicating the intensity of the fighting.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) yesterday deployed 400 fresh troops to Marawi to help the already exhausted soldiers there.

The overall death toll rose to 329, with 310 – 225 militants, 59 soldiers and 26 civilians – killed in the conflict, according to government figures.

The 19 others deaths came from those displaced by the fighting, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Mujiv Hataman said.

Hataman said the deaths among the evacuees were caused by severe dehydration from diarrhea.

More than 309,000 people have been displaced in Marawi and nearby areas, the government said. Many have fled to the homes of friends and relatives and others are in evacuation centers.

“Our forces are moving towards the heart of the enemy,” regional military spokesman Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera said, referring to the heavy fighting under urban conditions.

“It’s the center of gravity. This is where the location of their command and control, the leadership of the enemy,” he said. – Alexis Romero, Edith Regalado, Jaime Laude, Gerry Lee-Gorit, Roel Pareño, AFP

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