The Philippines military has mobilised attack helicopters and special forces to drive Islamic State-linked rebels out of a besieged southern city. Six soldiers have so far been killed in street combat amid the heavy resistance that has followed.
Ground troops hid behind walls and armoured vehicles and exchanged volleys of gunfire with Maute group fighters, shooting into elevated positions occupied by militants, who have held the city of Marawi on Mindanao island for two days.
Helicopters circled the city, peppering Maute positions with machine-gun fire to try to force them from a bridge vital to retaking Marawi, a mainly Muslim city of 200,000 where fighters have taken more than a dozen hostages and burned down and seized a school, a jail and a cathedral.
“Our troops are doing deliberate operations in areas we believe are still occupied or infested with the terrorist presence,” said the head of the task force, Brigadier General Rolly Bautista.
The battles with the Maute group, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State, started on Tuesday during a failed raid by security forces on one of the group’s hideouts that spiralled into chaos. Eighteen rebels were killed on Thursday, the army said.
The turmoil prompted the president, Rodrigo Duterte, to deliver on his longstanding threat to impose martial law on Mindanao, the country’s second-largest island. “If there’s an open defiance, you will die,” he said on Wednesday. “And if it means many people dying, so be it.”
Islamic State claimed responsibility late on Wednesday for Maute’s activities via its Amaq news agency.
At least 46 people – 15 members of the security forces and 31 rebels – have been killed, and religious leaders say militants were using Christians taken hostage during the fighting as human shields. The status of the hostages was not known.
The White House condemned the…