MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 18 October) – This month marks the third anniversary of the “liberation” of Marawi City from Islamic State-inspired militants who held the country’s security forces at bay for five months. The siege may be ill-conceived, if suicidal. But the Philippine military’s response was anything but well-planned either.
It was the militants who dictated how the battle should be fought. All the military could do, at least in the early going, was react to the enemy’s initiative. In the end, the military resorted to the scorched earth tactic, shelling and bombing the buildings within the so-called main battle area.
If the idea was to scare the militants away from the city, it did not work. On the contrary, they used the rubble to their advantage, that is, for concealment and cover. The holes through the building walls suggested how the ruins aided their maneuvers in a rat’s war for which the government forces had no training to begin with.
The siege somehow resembled the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942, when Hitler opened the eastern front in a miscalculated attempt to crush the former Soviet Union. Miscalculated because he underestimated the Russians’ resolve and ability to turn adversity into advantage.
Germans, relying on the superiority of their weaponry against the other European militaries, liked to fight from a distance. Yet, despite heavy bombing and artillery fire Soviet troops refused to surrender. This forced the invaders to move into the middle of Stalingrad’s ruins and fight a losing battle on terms set by poorly armed but determined defenders.
For months, a close-quarters battle raged, so close that, like in Marawi, opposing combatants, in many instances, were only separated by a wall or a floor. If there were soldiers who fought from a distance, it could only be the snipers whose presence spiced up the cat-and-mouse game as portrayed in the film “Enemy at the Gates.”
Like in Marawi too, Stalingrad was not without its symbolism. If the militants tried to occupy Marawi for its significance as the country’s lone Islamic City, Hitler wanted to grab Stalingrad to humiliate the wartime Soviet strongman, Joseph Stalin. The city offered no real strategic value, but the Fuhrer believed he could score a major psychological victory if he seized it.
Truly, if the Philippine military had bothered to reread history, they would have drawn some insights from Stalingrad as the first classroom of urban warfare. Had they done so, perhaps they would have used tactics other than saturation bombing which, in the eyes of residents, made them no different from the armed group that wanted to impose its own brand of Islam.
This is where the similarity between the two conflicts end. In Stalingrad, it was the attackers who destroyed the city, a given in war. In Marawi, the supposed defenders were the ones who devastated the place. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])