President Duterte came to power on a populist agenda. He wanted to make the Philippines an independent nation not dependent on the USA. To achieve this, he made overtures to China and Russia and signaled a more independent foreign policy. He was on a visit to Moscow when the local Muslim insurgents joined by the ISIS launched a massive attack in the Mindanao province and seized the city of Marawi. This was on 23 May 2017.

This is a large provincial city with a population of over 200,000. Duterte had to head back from Moscow and simultaneously promulgated the martial law.

He ordered the Philippine Army to throw out the Islamic rebels. But it is easier said than done and though weeks have passed the Philippine army has not been able to capture the city.

The rainy season has now set in, and the task has grown more difficult. The military is bogged down, and president Duterte has to swallow his pride, as without asking, US special forces in small numbers have started helping the army.

The number of wounded is going up every day and victory is not in sight. Despite heavy air bombing, the ISIS and local rebels are holding out. What was envisaged as a quick surgical operation to restore the writ of the Philippine government has become a bloody, protracted insurgency.

Remnants of ISIS-affiliated militants are still in control of portions of the city. CNN International reports this news.

Battle for Marawi

The Philippine army had announced that the city would be taken within ten days. Though a month has passed victory is nowhere in sight, despite the indiscrimate bombing of rebel areas. The city of Marawi is slowly being devastated.

The casualties of the army are mounting, and any strategist will tell you that this is not good for the morale of the soldiers.The eastern Island Of Mindanao was for long facing an insurgency from local Muslims.

Now ISIS cadre has infiltrated into the island, and to observers, the Philippine army will not on its own be able to oust the rebels.

The island also has thick jungles, and this gives a natural cover to any insurgency. The American will be known as they faced a similar problem in Vietnam.

Options for Duterte

What are the options for President Duterte?. It is clear that his overtures to China and Russia will not bring these nations to fight on the side of the army against the ISIS in the jungles of the Philippines. Duterte has to swallow his pride and ask the USA to help out.

He recently claimed that he had not asked for help, but at the same time, the Philippine Army is grateful for American support. The Eastern Philippines is a new theater created by the ISIS and victory can only come if Duterte forgets his ego and joins with the USA. If he fails to do so the hold over the Eastern island of Mindanao already tenuous, could turn even more fragile.