General leading Philippine battle with Islamists relieved of command

Claudine Rigal
Juin 12, 2017

"It hit our troops. there must be some mistake there", said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. "We have to be comprehensive", Ryamizard, a retired general, said in the AFP report.

Lorenzana said airstrikes may be curtailed because of the incident, but military spokesman Padilla insisted that the deaths would not weaken the resolve of the forces.

"We are still investigating, conducting an investigation headed by the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] chief of staff what really happened", he said during a press conference Thursday.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday invited Muslim rebels to join the Philippine military in the fight against ISIS militants.

In an earlier text message to reporters, he said of the "friendly fire" incident: "Sometimes that happens".

The accident reportedly occurred on Wednesday, May 31, when one of two the military aircrafts missed its target and instead hit the government troopers.

Duterte, however, noted that ensuring the safety of civilians while going after terrorists is a challenge for security forces.

While touring a Japanese warship docked at a former USA navy base on Sunday, Duterte said he had accepted the offer of a second Muslim guerrilla group, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which signed a peace deal with Manila in 1996, to send 2,000 fighters to battle the IS-linked militants.

President Rodrigoo Duterte had asked the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a separatist movement based on the island of Mindanao, to help negotiate a peace settlement with the fighters, who are predominantly drawn from the Maute group based in and around Marawi. I'm telling you now, you can kill all those you're holding now, but I won't talk to you.

The removal of Brigadier-General Nixon Fortes as commander of the army brigade in Marawi City and his replacement with his deputy, Colonel Generoso Ponio, was not related to the battle that has raged in the city, the spokesman said.

The fighting began last week after government security forces received information on Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon, a high-profile terrorist target who has been chosen to lead an ISIS division in Southeast Asia and is on the Department of Justice's most-wanted list for terrorists, and moved in to capture him.

Philippine government plans to push all jihadists out of Marawi City by June 2. Refugees from Marawi have spoken of seeing child soldiers, and previous ISIS propaganda about the region showed children and young teenagers wearing black bandanas and taking part in training exercises.

Lorenzana said the military might suspend air strikes, describing the rebels as a small force that "cannot hold that long".

The foreigners included Indonesians, Malaysians, at least one Pakistani, a Saudi Arabian, a Chechen, a Yemeni, an Indian, a Moroccan and one man with a Turkish passport, Reuters quoted the intelligence source as saying.

"There are places which we use as passageways to enemy territory - when we reach those areas, sometimes we see old people who are weak, can not move on their own, because of lack of food", he said.

ISIS-linked groups are known to be operational in the semi-lawless border areas between the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.

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