The Philippine Army is battling the Maute insurgents who have been joined by the ISIS. The insurgents had captured Marawi, a city with a population of over 200,000. The operation was executed swiftly when the president was on a visit to Russia. The president cut short his visit and headed back home. He declared martial law and ordered the army to throw out the insurgents. The President is, however, flummoxed by the inability of the Philippine army to drive out the rebels. Parts of the city remain in their hand. Earlier in a bid to raise the morale of the army he reportedly in a direct order to his troops said: "And my orders to you, if he carries a gun, he is not a soldier, he is not a policeman, just kill him.

That is my order because they will kill us.” Despite this order, the army is bogged down in the city and even extensive air bombing has not brought about the desired results. Till date, more than 400 are killed and the city is not liberated from ISIS control. There are reports of many villagers having been also killed. CNN International has reported this news.

Duterte and his strong man image

Duterte has cultivated an image of a strong man. He started a war on the drug mafia just after he assumed office and hundreds have been killed. However, fighting in the jungles of Mindanao is a different ball game. The dense forests give a natural cover to the insurgents who have been fighting the Philippine army for decades.

The equation has changed as the Maute rebels have received support from ISIS fighters. Duterte expected a quick victory and asked his troops not to worry if they kill civilians and to shoot anyone with a gun. Despite this, the rebels by an intricate maze of tunnels and sniper fire have been able to hold off the Philippine army.

The president has also assured his troops that he will protect them from any legal action in case they shoot any civilians accidentally.

Macho image punctured

Duterte has already declared martial law in the region. The president has to eat his words as the US has sent in Special Forces to aid the army which is bogged down. Duterte must have realized that the macho image he so carefully created over the last year has been punctured and in the end, his main support is the USA.

The president has not visited the USA despite a standing invitation. He had talked of scaling down the military dependence on the USA as he made overtures to Russia and China.He had not factored in the resilience of the Maute rebels now aided by the ISIS.The result is that the Philippine president is caught on a sticky wicket and much of his bravado has gone as the Philippine army gratefully acknowledges the help of the US army.