After five months of continuous fighting, the battle for Marawi was declared over today (Monday, October 23).
Since Islamic State-affiliated terrorists first went on the rampage on May 23, more than 1,100 have been killed and up to half a million civilians displaced.
The fighting has left much of the city, the largest Muslim majority settlement in the Philippines, reduced to rubble.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana confirmed that combat operations were at an end after troops recovered 42 bodies of the last remaining terrorists.
“Those are the last group of stragglers of Mautes and they were caught in one building so there was a firefight, so they were finished,” he said. “There are no more militants inside Marawi City.”
The siege sparked fears that IS was eyeing Mindanao as a new power base as it lost ground in the Middle East.
“The Philippine security forces, aided by its government and the massive support of the Filipino people, have nipped the budding infrastructure and defeated terrorism in the Philippines,” Mr Lorenzana added.
He said the achievement shows how regional cooperation can contain the spread of terrorism. “In crushing thus far the most serious attempt to export violent extremism and radicalism in the Philippines and the region, we have contributed to preventing its spread in Asia.”
Speaking at a meeting of Southeast Asian defence ministers Clark freeport, Malaysia’s Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein described the siege as a wakeup call for the region. “We have to be very careful. What happened in Marawi can happen anywhere,” he said.
Last week, troops killed the two leaders of the siege, namely former Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon, who was also IS’s representative, or ‘emir’ in Southeast Asia, and Omar Maute.
US Defence Secretary James Mattis praised the Philippines for its success today.
“One of the first things I’m going to do when I get there is commend the Philippine military for liberating Marawi from the terrorists,” Mattis told reporters on the flight to the Philippines to attend the Asean meeting at Clark.
“It was a very tough fight as you know in southern Mindanao. And I think the Philippine military sends a very strong message to the terrorists.”
Despite the victory in Marawi, no plans to lift martial law in Mindanao have been announced.
On July 22, 2017, the House of Representatives and the Senate approved President Duterte’s request to extend martial law until December 31.