MANILA, Oct. 15 (Xinhua) -- The Islamic State (IS)-linked militants are putting up fierce resistance as Philippines forces continue its bloody offensive to retake southern Philippine city of Marawi, an army commander said on Sunday.
Col. Romeo Brawner expressed hope that the Marawi siege will end "very soon." In a news conference in Marawi, Brawner said, "We are trying our best (to meet the military's self-imposed Oct. 15 target). Our troops are fighting hard."
"Until now our troops are still assaulting the defensive positions of the Maute-ISIS, and despite the fact that we have set today as a target day for finishing the arm conflict, our troops are still pushing hard, fighting hard to meet this target," Brawner said.
He said "the Maute-ISIS have established very strong defensive positions," adding that the IS fighters are hiding in dugouts and basements of their occupied buildings.
Around 40 Maute fighters are believed to be holed up within a two-hectare area near Lanao Lake in the devastated city, Brawner said.
He said the militants are using the hostages, including women and children, as shield against the government forces.
Quoting a woman hostage rescued on Saturday, he said "even the women and the children are now forced to fight together with the Maute-ISIS fighters."
"These are desperate measures that Maute-ISIS are doing because it is like their last defensive stand," Brawner said.
Brawner said 20 soldiers were wounded in action, including a battalion commander, during a firefight on Saturday.
He said the troops are using loudspeakers and air-dropping leaflets over the main battle area to encourage the remaining fighters to give up the fight and surrender.
The war in Marawi, which broke out on May 23, has dragged on for almost five months now. The 145-day conflict has so far claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people, including 813 militants and 162 soldiers and policemen.
Brawner said more than 1,700 government security forces have been wounded, mostly from gunshot wounds in the legs from snipers and improvised explosive devices that were laid by the fighters.
A martial law has been imposed on the entire Mindanao island in southern Philippines till December 31.