Marawi siege death toll reaches 422

Government troops take positions as they head to the frontline as fighting with Muslim militants in Marawi city enters its second week, Tuesday, May 30, 2017, in the southern Philippines. Philippine forces pressed their offensive to drive out militants linked to the Islamic State group after days of fighting left corpses in the streets and hundreds of civilians begging for rescue from a besieged southern city of Marawi. AP/Bullit Marquez, File

MANILA, Philippines — The death toll from the clashes still consuming Marawi City already reached more than 400 on Wednesday night as security forces continue to battle Islamist militants still confined in a small pocket of the city.

The fighting between security personnel is on its 38th day Thursday, a day before President Rodrigo Duterte marks his eventful first year in office.

Marie Banaag, presidential communications assistant secretary, said in a media briefing on Thursday that as of 6 p.m. on Wednesday, the fighting already claimed the lives of 303 Islamist militants, an increase of four deaths from the previous day.

On the side of the government, she said that 75 government troops had already died in the clashes. Forty-four civilians also perished in the siege, 17 higher than the previous figure, she said.

Banaag said that continuing government operations had also led to the confiscation of four more terrorist firearms. This puts the number of confiscated hardware at 362.

Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesperson for Joint Task Force Marawi, said that the rising casualties on the side of the terrorists is a sign that their numbers are already dwindling as he noted that infighting was already shaking the Maute local terror group which has held a part of Marawi’s downtown since May 23.

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“So makikita natin yung pagbawas ng kanilang forces,” Herrera said.

The clashes began as an attempt by the military and the police to arrest Abu Sayyaf subleader Isnilon Hapilon, who is believed to have already abandoned the Maute Group and fled the city. At the time, security forces said the attacks involved around 50 to 100 militants.

Security personnel encountered stiff resistance from the militants who were better armed than expected. The clashes spilled well into the night, and this led Duterte, who was at that time in Moscow with most of his senior security officials, to place Mindanao under army rule.

Since then, the fighting has been non-stop as the military launched several ground assaults and air bombardments to flush the rebels out of the city.

The siege has forced most of Marawi’s residents to flee together with civilians from neighboring towns in Lanao Del Sur and Lanao Del Norte.

The gravity of the situation has already alarmed some Southeast Asian nations as they fear that this might lead to the establishment of a so-called ISIS foothold in the region from which they can launch deadly terror attacks.

Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines have forged an agreement to counter terrorism and patrol waters along shared borders.

The US has also provided the Armed Forces technical assistance to help end the siege of Marawi City. Australia meanwhile has offered the Philippines spy planes to help survey the area where the militants are positioned.

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