MANILA, Philippines — At least 11 soldiers were killed and seven wounded by a wayward government air strike in Marawi City on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana admitted.
Lorenzana told a briefing in Malacanang Thursday that it was the “first time” the Philippine Air Force was involved in a “friendly fire” incident, saying such incidents often involve artillery fire.
The defense chief said he has designated Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Eduardo M. Año to lead the investigation into the friendly fire incident, adding that such could be completed in “three, to five days at the most.”
He also hinted that after the incident, there may be fewer air strikes utilized against the extremist gunmen government forces have been battling since Tuesday last week, considering that more troops – the latest was a Marine battalion – have been deployed to Marawi.
Lorenzana said the government will likely “limit the air strikes to aircraft that can deliver accurately.” He added that “we may suspend the air strikes for a while and let the ground forces do their thing.”
Since the Maute-led groups that have laid siege to Marawi since May 23 are now limited to a few pockets of resistance, the rest of the government operation may now be carried out purely on the ground, he added.
Tragedy in the ‘fog of war’
Earlier, he told reporters at a defense expo: “”Yesterday, we had a tragedy also that involves our troops. A group of our military, army men were hit by our own airstrike.”
“It’s sad but sometimes that happens, sometimes in the fog of war. Maybe the coordination was not properly done so we hit our own people,” he added.
Lorenzana said all the wounded troops have been evacuated to Cagayan de Oro City.
He said the incident involved two Marchetti SF-260 planes that dropped conventional bombs.
It was the bomb from the second plane that hit the troops, he said.
However, he acknowledged that he did not have more details of the incident, which is still being investigated.
“We’re still trying to investigate what happened.
We will come up with a report, hindi pa namin alam eh (we still don’t know),” he said.
At the Malacanang briefing, he said there may still be around 50 to a hundred gunmen holding out in Marawi. He said that in all, some 400 to 500 men extremists were involved in the siege of Marawi: 260 from the Maute Group itself, 100 from Isnilon Hapilon’s Abu Sayyaf Group in Basilan; and the rest from various armed groups.
Thus far, he said, 94 of the extremists have been killed while others have been fleeing Marawi in small groups.
WATCH VIDEO BY NEWS5’S JEFF CAPARAS OF LORENZANA BEING INTERVIEWED ON THE FRIENDLY FIRE INCIDENT:
Click and watch the reaction of the fatalities’ kin in this video report by Jenny Dongon of News5 below: