Marawi battle area shrinks as troops enclose 3rd bridge

MARAWI CITY, Philippines – The Philippine military is poised to control all critical bridges in the battle area in Marawi City, as it begins to occupy buildings located past the eastern mouth of Masiu Bridge in the lakeside village Raya Madaya. 

The marines have hoisted the Philippine flag on one of the buildings around the corner of Agus River and Lake Lanao, based on images that circulated on Friday, September 22.

This means troops now occupy both ends of Masiu Bridge. It was a combination of ground assault and air strikes, according to a source on the ground. 

Fighting continues in the area, and the bridge remains unpassable due to enemy snipers who still have a clear view of the bridge. The local terror groups have rocket-propelled grenades that can pierce through the military's armor vehicles. (READ: Terror in Mindanao: The Mautes of Marawi)

It's a sign that enemy space has significantly shrunk since clashes erupted on May 23. Ground troops have contained them on land while the navy and the maritime police swarm the lake to make sure enemies don't use it as exit point.

The war marked its 4th month on Saturday, September 23. At least 887 have died including 151 soldiers, 689 enemies, and 47 civilians. 

The Masiu Bridge is the last of 3 critical bridges that the fighters of the Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf Group immediately occupied in the beginning of the war to allow them to control the city's commercial district, Banggolo. (WATCH: Battle for Marawi bridges)

Locals often refer to the bridge "Raya Madaya Bridge" because it goes right into the lakeside village from the highway.

For months the 3 bridges on Agus River – Baloi Bridge, Bayabao Bridge, and Masiu Bridge – separated the battle area from the military-controlled "safe-zone."

Deeper in the battle area, troops are also gaining ground. Task Group deputy commander Colonel Romeo Brawner said they continue to advance in the area of Bato Mosque, where hostages were previously kept.

High-profile hostage Father Chito Soganub, a Catholic priest, was able to escape last week when troops pushed to control the mosque. 

Brawner said the fighting is now in tighter areas, making it more difficult to advance. It gets harder to soften the ground with air strikes because troops are too close to the enemies. 

The military said it is still dealing with about 50 fighters who are holding up to 60 hostages. 

Brawner said the enemies are taking advantage of the ratholes and trenches they dug inside the battle, allowing them to escape military bombardment. – Rappler.com