Marawi siege turning into a ‘war of attrition

ILIGAN CITY — The Marawi fighting is turning into a war of attrition.

This was how Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) information and peace panel chief Mohagher Iqbal described the two-month long siege in this city as he emphasized the need to “deprive the militants of the opportunity to resupply [so that] the siege cannot last for long.”

“If that is achieved, the militants will only be left with the will to fight. In war, that alone cannot take you far,” he said.

According to official data, more than 400,000 displaced people are waiting for the war to end so they can return home. Those from Marawi fled to escape the crossfire while those from nearby towns evaded the specter of hunger as food supply in their localities tightened.

The MILF has downplayed the capacity of Islamic State (IS)-inspired militants to besiege Marawi City for an extended period, expecting the war to end the soonest.

“The fighting in Marawi City is going to end soon, God willing! There is no doubt about that. The Maute group cannot hold on any longer,” the MILF earlier said in a statement posted on its official website.

But the group did not give an estimate of the staying power of the Maute terrorists who are joined by fighters of the Abu Sayyaf, whose leader, Isnilon Hapilon, is said to be the southeast Asian emir of the IS to which the Lanao militants pledged allegiance.

Iqbal explained that the Maute group and its allied forces are “not an established army, hence, these are dependent on volunteers.”

“And absent a clear political agenda, it is difficult to generate a horde of volunteers who will fight to the death in battle. By contrast, the MILF has a deeper reserve of fighters but its military activities are calibrated on the basis of its political objective,” Iqbal said in a phone interview.

Iqbal is a veteran in over 40 years of fighting for a self-governing territory of predominantly Moro-populated areas in Mindanao founded on the Bangsamoro’s distinct history and identity as a people.

The MILF fought four major wars with the Armed Forces, the longest of which was in 2000, lasting some five months that concluded with the capture of its main camp in Maguindanao. When the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro was signed in 2014, the group has an estimated 12,000 fully armed fighters.

Styling itself as a local IS branch, the Maute group, on the other hand, has vowed to create a Mindanao wilayah (province) of the so-called Islamic caliphate to be governed by Shariah, a system of laws based on the Quran.

But the MILF finds this goal vague: “Building a caliphate is more in the mind rather than an immediate possibility.”

Still, the idea drew in as much as 700 fighters when the siege was pulled off on May 23, based on the estimate of Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., chief of the Western Mindanao Command.

Early last month, Galvez also estimated that the militants could go on fighting for two more months given the cache of weapons and ammunition they have, either looted from homes and business establishments, or stacked up in advance. —Ryan D. Rosauro

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