WOMEN and children have taken up arms against the military in the Philippine city of Marawi where clashes with Islamic State-linked rebels have continued for over 100 days, according to army chiefs.
The military made the announcement on Monday ahead of a final push to re-take the city from the armed rebels.
Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez, who heads the military in Western Mindanao, said the number of fighters was diminishing and a small number of women and children, most likely family members of the rebels, were now engaged in combat.
“Our troops in the field are seeing women and children shooting at our troops so that’s why it seems they are not running out of fighters,” Galvez said.
The fighting, that enters its 106th day on Tuesday, has been contained into a small area in the commercial heart of the city infested with snipers, and littered with booby traps. The military is expecting higher casualties and fierce fighting as the battle enters its final stages.
“We are now in the final phase of our operations and we are expecting more intense and bloody fighting. We may suffer heavier casualties as the enemy becomes more desperate,” Galvez told reporters.
According to Reuters, more than 800 people have been killed in the battle, most of them insurgents, since May 23 when the militants occupied large parts of the predominantly Muslim town.
The southern Philippines has been marred for decades by insurgency and banditry. But the intensity of the battle in Marawi and the presence of foreign fighters fighting alongside local militants has raised concerns that the region may be becoming a Southeast Asian hub for IS as it loses ground in Iraq and Syria.
Militants from neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia, both Muslim-majority nations, are fighting in Marawi.
After failing to quash the uprising in its initial weeks, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte extended martial law on Mindanao until the end of 2017.
Additional reporting by Reuters