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Combat ops terminated — Lorenzana

  • Written by Ayee Macaraig
  • Published in Top Stories
  • Read: 304

CLARK, Pampanga - - A five-month battle against Islamic State supporters in the southern Philippines
that claimed more than 1,100 lives has ended following a final battle inside a mosque, defense chiefs
said on Monday.

The conclusion of the conflict ended immediate fears that IS would establish a Southeast Asian
base in the southern city of 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 in Clark, a northern
Philippine city.
    
“There are no more militants inside Marawi city.”
    
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 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 Rodrigo 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 General 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.
    
“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.

Hiding in basements, mosques
    
Hapilon, who was on the US government’s list of most wanted terrorists, was killed along with
one of the group’s other leaders, Omarkhayam Maute, according to the military.
    
The militants had been able to defy the relentless bombing raids that destroyed entire
neighborhoods by sheltering in basements and traveling through tunnels, according to the military.
    
The military had also said its opponents hid inside mosques, and that soldiers had been ordered
not to bomb or fire artillery at such buildings.
    
The Philippines’ Muslim minority regards the southern Philippines as its ancestral homeland.
    
Muslim rebels have been battling in the south since the 1970s for independence or autonomy,
with that conflict claiming at least 120,000 lives.
    
The nation’s biggest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, is in talks with
the government to end the rebellion, and its leaders regularly denounce IS.
    
But there are more extreme groups with no interest in peace, some of which were originally part
of the MILF.
    
Hapilon and Maute led small armed groups that declared their allegiance to IS in recent years,
and they formed an alliance aimed at taking over Marawi and establishing a regional caliphate for the
Middle East-based jihadists.
    
Duterte imposed martial law across the southern third of the Philippines immediately after the
Marawi fighting erupted, saying it was needed to contain IS’s influence spreading throughout the
region.
    
When asked on Monday whether martial law would be lifted, Lorenzana said a decision had not yet
been made.