Some P3 billion spent in offensive against Maute group: Lorenzana

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This photo taken on July 22, 2017 shows a Philippine Marine observing Islamic militant positions on the frontline in Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao, as fighting between government troops and Islamist militants enters its second month. -- AFP

By Ian Nicolas P. Cigaral, Reporter

THE Philippine government has so far spent about P3 billion in the still ongoing military operations against Islamic State (IS)-inspired militants that overran the southern city of Marawi, provincial capital of Lanao del Sur, according to the country’s Defense chief.

Clashes between government forces and the pro-Islamic State (IS) Maute extremists broke out in Marawi on May 23 — triggering what may be the biggest internal security crisis in the Philippines since the Zamboanga City siege in 2013 and that prompted President Rodrigo R. Duterte to declare martial law in Mindanao.

The bloody standoff enters its 82nd day today.

In an interview with reporters on Thursday, Aug. 10, Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana said the government shelled out “roughly” P3 billion in its continuing offensive against the terrorist Maute group.

Mr. Lorenzana said the funds spent were sourced from “other projects” and he expressed the hope that Congress would “replenish” the ongoing military operation via the procurement of more equipment like bullet proof vests, helmets, and night vision goggles.

“I think we are facing the Congress in a couple of weeks,” the Defense chief said.

“Pero kailangan pa rin natin ng malaking pera siguro to develop our human intelligence on the ground kasi kailangan natin yun,” he added. (But perhaps we still need a lot more money to develop our human intelligence on the group because that’s needed.)

Last month, Congress overwhelmingly voted to extend Mr. Duterte’s martial rule in Mindanao until yearend to defeat the band of jihadist fighters that occupied the predominantly Muslim city and to dismantle the terror network in the region.

As of Aug. 10, the number of enemies neutralized by pursuing state forces in Marawi rose to 552 while civilians killed by the Maute group remained at 45. Meanwhile, 128 troops were killed in the clashes.

According to Mr. Lorenzana, ground commanders reported to him that the urban warfare might end in “one to two months.” Nonetheless, he said he reminded them not to rush to avoid more government casualties.

“We don’t want them to be killed,” he said.