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Philippines army gaining upper hand over ISIS in Marawi

An armoured personnel carrier and government troops march to begin their assault with insurgents from the so-called Maute group, who have taken over large parts of Marawi City, southern Philippines May 25, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Latest reports from the embattled town of Marawi in the Philippines – stormed by ISIS fighters on Tuesday, and now the site of heavy fighting between ISIS and the Philippines army – suggest that the Philippines army is gaining the upper hand over ISIS and may be close to recapturing the town.

It seems that Filipino troops backed by air strikes by the Philippines air force have been steadily advancing through Marawi’s western suburbs.  However ISIS still controls the city centre and harbour.

Losses on both sides in the fighting have been heavy.  Allegedly up to 35 ISIS fighters have been killed in the fighting.   However the losses of Filipino troops have reportedly been even higher, with as many as 80 of them killed.

It is only a matter of time before the Philippines army recaptures Marawi.  It is not known exactly how many ISIS fighters there are there but the most common estimates puts their number at about 500.  However well trained and motivated they are – and it is likely some of them are hardened veterans of the wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria – there are simply not enough of them to hold off the Philippines army however ill-equipped, untrained and inexperienced it might be.

Unfortunately the battle of Marawi is likely to be only the start of what could prove to be a protracted counter insurgency war against ISIS in the Philippines.  The country has a host of problems, providing fertile ground for an organisation like ISIS to take root, and its capture of Marawi – however brief – not only shows the huge increase in ISIS’s organisation and power in the Philippines, but is for ISIS a significant propaganda victory which is likely to draw in more recruits.  That probably is why ISIS decided to capture the town in the first place, despite the heavy losses to its fighters which that would cause.

These are dark days for the Philippines and for the country’s new President, Rodrigo Duterte.  His request to Russia for weapons for the Philippines army to fight ISIS in the circumstances makes perfect sense, though it remains to be seen how much help Russia is willing or able to give.

Regardless of that, at this juncture in its history – caught in what is likely to be a life-or-death struggle with ISIS – the Philippines needs all the help it can get.

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