MANILA, July 16 (Xinhua) -- Philippine security forces have yet to clear up to 550 buildings in Marawi to completely retake the southern city from extremists allied with Islamic State (IS), a spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said on Sunday.
Army Lt. Col Jo-Ar Herrera said the troops are making advances in pushing out up to 70 militants still holed up in the remaining buildings and mosques in the city's four villages.
In the last 48 hours, Herrera said that the troops managed to clear 60 more buildings previously occupied by the militants.
He said the troops also recovered "many" firearms during the latest raids. Since the military offensive, Herrera said the troops have recovered "more or less 500 firearms from the rebels."
"We are gaining more grounds. The rebel-held area is getting smaller," Herrera said, adding "we are committed and focused to finish the job as soon as possible."
Herrera said the troops are maximizing the military's capabilities at this stage. "We have been fighting units on the ground, the best tactical commanders. As I said it's just a matter of time this conflict will be over soon," he said. Herrera said that the rebel-held buildings in Malawi's four villages are rigged with explosives like improvised explosive devices, fuel and molotov bombs in a bid to delay the advancing troops, making it difficult for the troops to easily penetrate the buildings.
The estimated 70 militants who are occupying the buildings are still heavily-armed, he said.
"They still have machine guns and anti-tank weapons. There are still plenty of snipers around."
AFP spokesman Restituto Padilla said Saturday that the death toll in the 55-day Marawi conflict has reached 537, including 93 soldiers and policemen.
As of 7 p.m. of July 14, he said at least 399 Islamic militants and 45 civilians have been killed. The death toll is expected to rise as the fighting continues to retake rebel-controlled areas within the city.
Fighting broke out in the Philippines' only Islamic city on May 23 when militants allied with Islamic State (IS) in the Middle East attacked a hospital, a school and government buildings in a failed attempt to control the city.
The military said the attack was part of the militants' big plan to establish an IS caliphate in the southern Philippines, home to Filipino Muslims and several groups of Muslim insurgents that have plagued the country for decades.