CLARK (AFP) – A five-month battle against Islamic State supporters in Marawi City that claimed more than 1,100 lives has ended following a final battle inside a mosque, defense chiefs said yesterday.
The conflict that concluded exactly five months or 154 days after it started quashed immediate fears that IS would establish a Southeast Asian base in Marawi. But concerns remained about its longer-term intentions and capabilities for the region.
“We now announce the termination of all combat operations in Marawi,’’ Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters on the sidelines of a regional security meeting here. “There are no more militants inside Marawi City.’’
“The Philippine security forces aided by its government and the massive support of the Filipino people have ripped the budding infrastructure and defeated terrorism in the Philippines,” Lorenzana said.
“In crushing thus far the most serious attempt to export violent extremism and radicalism in the Philippines and in the region, we have contributed to preventing its spread in Asia and gave our share to maintaining global peace, stability, and security,” he added.
Lorenzana thanked nations that helped the government in the fight against the militants that include China, United States, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Singapore.
Hundreds of local and foreign gunmen who had pledged allegiance to IS rampaged through Marawi, the principal Islamic city in the mainly Catholic Philippines, on May 23. They then took over parts of the city using civilians as human shields.
An ensuing US-backed military campaign claimed the lives of at least 920 militants, 165 soldiers and policemen, and 47 civilians, according to the military.
More than 400,000 residents were displaced as near-daily air strikes and intense ground combat left large parts of the city in ruins.
President Duterte travelled to Marawi on Tuesday last week and declared the city had been “liberated,’’ a day after the Southeast Asian leader for IS, a Filipino militant named Isnilon Hapilon, was shot dead there.
However, the continued fighting in subsequent days raised questions over whether the city was indeed free of militants.
“The presence of the Maute-ISIS was confined to two buildings: One of them a mosque,’’ Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Ano told reporters on Monday as he explained the situation in Marawi following Duterte’s liberation proclamation.
“That is where the last fighting occurred and that is the place where we rescued (an) additional 20 hostages,” Ano said.
“In that fighting, we gave the chance for these militants and terrorists to surrender. But they fought to the last breath so we had no choice.’’
The bodies of 42 militants were recovered after the final battle, including two women and five foreigners, according to Ano, who spoke at the same briefing as Lorenzana in Clark. (with reports from Francis T. Wakefield)