Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday ordered the new army commander to recruit and organise 10 new infantry battalions to crush remnants of pro-Islamic State militants, days after they were defeated in a southern city. The military on Monday declared victory over the Maute group, which seized control in Marawi City on May 23, after killing the last 40 remaining militants, including a few foreign fighters.
More than 1,100 people, including 165 soldiers, died in the five-month conflict. “We were instructed to organise ten additional battalions,” new military chief Lieutenant-General Rey Leonardo Guerrero told reporters after Duterte installed him to head the 130,000-strong armed forces. One battalion comprises about 500 soldiers.
“We really intend to put pressure and sustain effort to be able to finish all of them and complete the resolution of armed conflict in the country.” The Philippines has been waging protracted guerrilla warfare for nearly 50 years against Maoist rebels and Muslim separatists that has killed more than 160,000 people, displaced two million and stunted growth in resource-rich rural areas.
Guerrero, who was promoted from army commander in Duterte’s home region on the southern island of Mindanao, said the army had also been ordered by the president to try to defeat the 4,000-strong communist New People’s Army. Duterte broke off negotiations with the Maoist rebels early this year due to continued attacks on mines, plantations, construction and other companies to raise funds, as well as attacks on isolated army and police outposts.
The government is engaged in peace talks with Muslim separatists trying to carve out an autonomous region in the south, enlisting the main Moro Islamic Liberation Front to help fight a small group of rebels who have pledged allegiance to Islamic State. “We already have timetables and targets and I intend to meet that,” Guerrero, who only has two months to serve before he retires, said. “The military has a multi-year programme, it’s not dependent on personalities, but its tasks are lined up regardless of who assumes the leadership.”