MANILA - Philippine security officials on Monday (Oct 23) declared an end to fierce urban fighting in Marawi, exactly five months after hundreds of pro-ISIS militants stormed the city, in what has become the Philippines’ biggest security crisis in years.
“We now announce the termination of all combat operations in Marawi,” Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement he read to reporters.
He said the Philippines has “nipped the budding infrastructure and defeated terrorism in the Philippines”.
“There are no more militants inside Marawi,” he said.
Earlier on Monday morning, Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, citing Mr Lorenzana, tweeted that the last of terrorists have been cleared out of Marawi.
Mr Lorenzana said government troops in Marawi seized early on Monday (Oct 23) morning a building where the militants made their last stand.
“This is the last group of stragglers… They were caught in one building. There was a firefight, and 42 cadavers were recovered,” he said.
Mr Lorenzana announced the end of the fighting in Marawi, as South-east Asia’s defence ministers opened their annual meeting at the Clark freeport north of Manila on Monday, with counter-terrorism strategies high on the agenda.
The conflict began when hundreds of militants stormed Marawi on May 23 in an audacious bid to turn the city into a “province” of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group.
More than 1,000 militants, government troops and civilians have been killed in the conflict so far. Half of Marawi lies in ruins, levelled by air raids, artillery barrages and fierce urban fighting. About 400,000 people have been displaced.
General Eduardo Ano, the military chief, said in the same news briefing that among those who were killed were the wives of two militants and five foreigners.
“We are very confident that none managed to escape,” he said.
Major-General Restituto Padilla, the military spokesman, said later that the 42 killed were from when President Rodrigo Duterte declared Marawi “free from terrorists’ influence” on Oct 17.
Their bodies were recovered near where the last retaken building and “around the remaining battle area”.
“Their bodies were recovered within the approximate area where their last stand was made,” he said.
Maj-Gen Padilla also clarified that what the military was announcing was an end to all “combat operations”.
“From time to time, you may hear gunfire being fired in the combat environment. This may require our troops to reckon if there any existing threat,” he said.
“But confrontation types of engagements, there are no more of that.”
Mr Lorenzana said the Philippines will now seek to cooperate with other nations to deal with new security threats that will emerge in the aftermath of the Marawi siege.
“We will be cooperating, especially with Asean nations that are vulnerable to this kind of threat: Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei,” he said.
He said in his statement: “While we submit that these tactical and strategic gains will not annihilate the ideology completely, we declare that this achievement is a clear manifestation of how our regional cooperation can lead to a decisive advance against the proliferation of terrorism in this part of the world.”