Philippine military to pursue leftist rebels after crushing IS extremists: defense chief

Source: Xinhua| 2017-07-27 19:45:00|Editor: Zhou Xin
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MANILA, July 27 (Xinhua) -- Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Thursday that government forces will be focusing on the fight against the leftist New People's Army (NPA) once the dragging armed conflict in Marawi City is over.

Lorenzana admitted that the operations against leftist rebels had been affected by the Marawi crisis, noting that troops had been pulled out to help flush out Maute Group in the city, whose members are extremists pledging allegiance to Islamic State (IS).

"It's just a consequence we were somehow (set back). We removed some of the battalions from the NPA areas and brought them to Marawi ... We lost focus and we are going to bring them back once Marawi is finished," he said.

The Duterte administration has ordered the termination of the peace talks with the leftist rebels last week, following series of attacks from NPA, including the ambush on Presidential Security Group personnel in Arakan, North Cotabato that wounded five men.

Lorenzana did not say the exact number of soldiers who were pulled out from NPA areas to fight the Maute Group in Marawi City. Sources said about 5,000 soldiers are currently assigned to liberate the city.

Lorenzana said finishing the problem in Marawi City will allow the military to focus on the fight against other threat groups such as the Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

Lorenzana has said he is seeing the end of the crisis, which broke out on May 23, in a month or so. The fighting has so far resulted in the death of 460 Maute members, 111 soldiers and policemen and 45 civilians.

Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, spokesperson of the Philippine military's Western Mindanao Command and Joint Task Force, said finishing the job within the projection of the defense chief is possible.

"It's continuing. We are clearing structures every day. It's just taking time because of the challenges on the ground," said Petinglay.

She said there are about 50 to 60 enemies holed up in the small portion of the city, including their leaders -- Maute leaders Omar and Abdullah Maute, senior Abu Sayyaf leader and IS emir in Southeast Asia Isnilon Hapilon.

"Based on our information, the leaders that we are after are still in the area as of this time," said Petinglay.