MARAWI CITY, PHILIPPINES - The general leading an offensive against pro-Islamic State militants holed up in a southern Philippine town has been relieved of his command, an army spokesman said Friday, the 11th day of the country’s biggest security crisis in years.
The removal of Brigadier-General Nixon Fortes as commander of the army brigade in Marawi City and his replacement with his deputy, Colonel Generoso Ponio, was not related to the battle that has raged in the city, the spokesman said.
On Wednesday, an air strike aimed at flushing out rebels killed 10 troops, a major blow that the army said was an accident of the sort that sometimes happens in the “fog of war.”
Asked if the course of the conflict was the reason for Fortes’ replacement, spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Ray Tiongson said: “That’s not the reason.”
A military source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Fortes was dismissed because not all his forces were in the city when the rebels began their rampage, even though military intelligence had indicated that Islamist militants, including foreign fighters, were amassing there.
The source said that some of Fortes’ forces were busy fighting a small band of communist insurgents in a nearby town when some 400 militants overran Marawi City last Tuesday after a botched military raid to capture their leader, Isnilon Hapilon.
Thirty-nine members of the security forces have been killed in the Marawi battles, as well as 19 civilians and 120 rebel fighters.