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Philippine Military Tries To Regain Control Of City From ISIS Allies


For decades, the Philippines has fought an on-again-off-again separatist insurgency on its southern islands. But the newest militant group has aligned itself with ISIS. And last week, they took control of a city, Marawi, on the island of Mindanao. Reporter Michael Sullivan is there.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: On the side of the road, on the outskirts of Marawi City, a small crowd peers into a ravine where eight bodies are sprawled in the jungle below. Bloodstains on the road offer a clue to what happened. Police officer Jamail Mangadang.

JAMAIL MANGADANG: Early in the morning, some of the concerned citizens reported to my checkpoint, there is eight bodies in that place.

SULLIVAN: He calls over one of his men, who hands him a crumpled cigarette pack.

You're showing me nine shell casings. That means these people were executed here?

MANGADANG: Yes, yes, yes.

SULLIVAN: Civilians executed by the militants, according to the armed forces - militants who've also taken at least a dozen hostages, including a Catholic priest, in the past week. The city is home to more than 200,000 people. The provincial vice governor, Mamintal Adiong Jr., says most have fled.

MAMINTAL ADIONG JR.: (Speaking Tagalog).

SULLIVAN: Eighty to 90 percent of the population has left, he says. There is no power, no water and not a lot of food for those who've chosen to stay, like Abul Khadir Kamama (ph) and his family.

ABUL KHADIR KAMAMA: I did not want to leave my residence.

SULLIVAN: Are you afraid for your children that this fighting will get worse?

KAMAMA: Siempre. Of course.

SULLIVAN: When do you think it will end?

KAMAMA: I don't know - when will be the end of these troubles?


SULLIVAN: Many parts of Marawi City are abandoned. The only things moving - animals left behind and heavily armed Philippine soldiers moving cautiously as they try to clear the militants block by block.


SULLIVAN: The soldiers are edgy - and with good reason. Nearly a dozen have been killed since the fighting began. Their commander is Gen. Carlito Galvez.

CARLITO GALVEZ: Ladies and gentlemen, we have to understand the danger of open fighting.

SULLIVAN: Speaking to reporters over the weekend, Gen. Galvez said snipers can pin down an entire battalion, which helps explain why it's taking so long, even as tough-talking President Rodrigo Duterte, who's from the island of Mindanao, has vowed to crush the IS-linked militancy here, an effort that includes the use of air power.


SULLIVAN: Attack aircraft and helicopters have been pounding militant positions for days. Between that and the fire started by the militants, many worry about what will be left when it's over. Asrena Macabanding (ph) is a 17-year-old displaced person now staying in nearby Iligan.

ASRENA MACABANDING: What home are we going to go home - when this ends - if our home is still intact because of the airstrikes launched by the government, et cetera.

SULLIVAN: So are you worried about your house being burned down by these militants or being bombed by the military or both?


SULLIVAN: There's also concern about the safety of civilians still trapped inside the militant-controlled areas and growing unease here with the military's progress and tactics. Professor Melba Angni is not one of those critics. She lays the blame for all of it on the militants linked to the Islamic State.

MELBA ANGNI: If those people who are actually fighting - as they say, they're fighting for Islam. I don't think their way is Islamic. I think they have another style which is actually giving devastation for the private citizens.

SULLIVAN: She says there's no place for IS in Mindanao. And she says the ones who started all this are just criminals. For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Marawi City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.
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