Military attempts to retake Bato Ali Mosque

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The military used airstrikes by OV10 bombers to retake Bato Ali Mosque.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 27) — The military on Sunday said it is stepping up operations to retake one of the remaining Maute strongholds, the Bato Ali Mosque in Marawi.

Col. Romeo Brawner, commander of Joint Task Force Ranao, said with the fall of the Grand Mosque on Thursday, the terrorists are confined in three remaining mosques in the main battle zone.

"We will be attempting to recover the other mosques in the next few days," he said, adding these serve as fortress for the remaining 40 fighters.

Despite relentless airstrikes by OV10 bombers, the military said the Bato Ali Mosque is difficult to retake, as it has two underground levels, making it easy for the terrorists to come and go.

The Bato Ali Mosque is strategic for the Maute since it is near a shopping center where they loot food supplies, and Lanao Lake where they can escape fast.

The Armed Forces has a standing policy not to bomb these structures, as these mosques have become sniping nests for the Maute, and a place where they hold their hostages.

Bombing mosques also violate international laws against attacks on places of worship and other cultural properties.

Brawner said these considerations slow down the movement of assault teams.

"We are also very careful in our assault because we want to ensure the safety of the hostages," he said.

Since the fighting began in May 23, almost 800 soldiers, civilians, and Maute fighters have died in the war.