At least three Philippine soldiers were killed and 52 were injured after the troops fought "one of their toughest" clashes against militants loyal to Islamic State in a southern town, an officer said on Friday. The authorities added that many of them were wounded by rebel bombs as they pushed forward on Thursday.
Military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla described the fight on the eve of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha as some of the toughest fighting yet. The army seized a bridge on that day. He said that at least five militants were killed in the clash.
"We are working to clear the remaining areas where the enemy is holding out," Padilla said in a statement to Reuters. "Following a short pause early today, to give due respect to the solemnity and significance of the holiday, the operations will continue without any let up," he added.
The military has expressed confidence the end is in sight for what has been its biggest security crisis in years, which started in May. But, the latest casualties underscore the difficulty that they still face in the battlefield.
In May, the Islamists shocked the country by seizing large parts of Marawi town. After more than 100 days of fighting, pockets of fighters remain dug in the ruins.
According to reports, a total of 620 militants, 45 civilians and 136 soldiers and policemen have been killed in the Marawi fighting. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced due to the crisis that raised fears about Islamic State establishing a foothold in Southeast Asia.
The military has missed repeated targets and deadlines to crush the rebels in Marawi, a largely Muslim town on the southern island of Mindanao, raising questions about whether it can contain a wider rebellion.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who placed all of Mindanao under martial law until the end of the year after the militants occupied Marawi, has urged lawmakers to approve funds to beef up the army by 20,000 troops.
On Friday, Duterte said that he saw no reason to lift martial law in Mindanao, citing violence in other parts of the island. "The way it looks, there seems to be some spill-over," the 72-year-old leader said. However, he did not elaborate any further.
Muslim rebels in the south of the predominately Christian Philippines have for generations battled for greater autonomy. But, in recent years hopes for peace were raised with several factions engaged in talks. However, the Marawi battle has dimmed all those hopes.