Philippines President Duterte makes surprise visit to Marawi war zone

The 72-year-old leader visited the local military headquarters to show his support for the troops.

Duterte takes full responsibility for consequences of martial law in Philippines

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte made a surprise visit to the war torn Marawi City on Thursday while troops are still engaged in a brutal fight to crush Islamic State group-inspired militants in the area.

The 72-year-old leader visited the local military headquarters to show his support for the troops, who have been engaged in an almost two month-long battle that has claimed over 500 lives.

"He really showed his courage, he showed his strong support for our soldiers in their fight in Marawi City," Lieutenant Colonel Jo-ar Herrera, spokesman of military forces in the warzone, told local media. "It boosted morale and the fighting spirit of the men and women of Task Force Marawi," he added.

Herrera also said that Duterte, dressed in military camouflage, thanked the soldiers for their efforts and gave out watches and other gifts to cheer the soldiers up.

According to the spokesman, Duterte stayed inside the camp and inspected the firearms that were seized from the militants, before departing. As the fighting began on May 23, the president declared martial law over the southern Philippines.

The fighting in the southern city of Marawi, the Muslim capital of the largely Catholic Philippines, has become the greatest challenge facing Duterte, the first president to hail from the country's troubled south.

Duterte has asked the lawmakers to allow him to extend the martial law over the south until the end of the year to deal with the militant threat. However, the critics fear that this would edge the country closer to dictatorship.

Large parts of Marawi City have been occupied by the militants, who flew the black flag of the IS, for almost two months, defying airstrikes and artillery barrages, with parts of the city of 200,000 people left in ruins.

On Thursday, the government said that at least 421 militants had been killed in the fighting that has also claimed the lives of 99 soldiers and police, as well as 45 civilians. The extremists continue to occupy parts of the city with about 300 civilians still trapped or held hostage by the gunmen.