Manila: Philippine officials have said air strikes against Maute militants in Marawi City will continue, despite an incident on Wednesday when a bomb from an air force plane landed on government forces killing two people and injuring 11 others.
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Col. Edgard Arevalo — who heads the Public Affairs Office (PAO) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) — said air strikes form an important part of the government’s campaign to dislodge Maute and Abu Sayyaf in Marawi City, and any disruption in the momentum of the air and ground campaign could be exploited by the militants to their advantage.
Arevalo said the militants’ use of stronger structures for hiding places also made the use of light bombers as attack aircraft more crucial.
According to reports, a bomb released by an Air Force FA-50 last Wednesday landed on a group of soldiers conducting house clearing operations in Marawi City killing two soldiers and wounding 11 others.
“The bomb was 250 metres off target but the impact of the explosion caused the collapse of nearby structures.
“Large debris from heavily reinforced buildings accidentally hit two of our personnel, who died, while 11 others sustained minor shrapnel wounds. All are ambulatory and are recuperating in the nearby hospital.
“We are saddened by this unfortunate incident. We are attending to the needs of the families of our troops who died or were hurt,” Arevalo said in a statement.
The FA-50 and the pilots involved have been grounded while an investigation into the incident is ongoing.
The South Korean-made FA-50 is the newest aircraft in the inventory of the air force and had only entered service more than a year ago.
The incident follows a similar “friendly fire” incident on May 31 when another air force bomber — a single-engined, propeller-driven SF-260 dropped its bomb load right close to a group of soldiers, killing ten of them and injuring several others.
Aerial bombs are considered more accurate when fighting in urban areas than artillery fire, especially if it is a guided bomb. In the case of the Philippine Air Force, the air arm had reportedly run out of such precision ordinance because of the long-drawn campaign that started on May 23.
The Maute-Abu Sayyaf, aided by foreign volunteers, had drawn the Philippine armed forces to fight in an urban setting, a field where it has limited experience. While it has decades of fighting experience, its engagements with antigovernment elements were fought in rural and far-flung areas and not much in the cities where there higher risks of causing collateral damage due to the presence of structures and buildings.
These same buildings are also being used by militants as hiding place which are effectively being used by snipers.