Philippines Declares Marawi Clear of Militants
The destructive siege began five months ago
The Philippines government said it had broken the final stand of Islamic State-linked militants in the southern city of Marawi, killing all remaining combatants exactly five months after the bloody battle began.
“We have successfully concluded what has been, so far, the most serious threat of violent extremism and radicalism in the Philippines and in Southeast Asia,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement.
Mr. Abella said the government would shift its focus “to the enormous and challenging task of rebuilding, reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Islamic City.”
Separately, at a meeting of defense ministers from Southeast Asia in the northern city of Clark, Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that there were no more militants in Marawi and that combat was over, local media reported.
“I think that the Philippine military has sent a strong message to the terrorists everywhere,” U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said en route to the meeting in Manila. Mr. Mattis said he would commend the Philippine military for its success.
The battle for Marawi, once a relatively prosperous Muslim trading town of 200,000, has shocked counterterrorism experts and Philippine officials with its brutality and the unexpected capability of the militants to hold out so long.
The conflict has stoked concern about the spread of Islamic State-inspired violence into other parts of the world including Southeast Asia as the terror group loses its traditional strongholds in the Middle East.
Nearly a thousand militants and more than 160 government troops died during the battle, which began May 23 when fighters inspired and funded by Islamic State occupied Marawi. At least 47 civilians also died, some of whom were beheaded, according to former hostages and government officials.
Late last week the military said it was trying to flush out a few dozen militants left in Marawi after killing the Islamist group’s remaining leaders. One of the U.S.’s most-wanted terrorists, Abu Sayyaf faction leader Isnilon Hapilon, was among the militant leaders killed last week.
The military says it faces the long and arduous task of clearing the city of improvised explosive devices left behind by the militants. Government officials say they have begun to assess damage in the areas of Marawi affected by the fighting. Authorities said late last month that rebuilding may cost as much as 50 billion pesos ($970 million).
The government said it plans to issue bonds in local and global markets in January to help repay for the reconstruction of Marawi.
The city has been decimated by the fighting, particularly by airstrikes used by the military to assault heavily fortified militant positions. Some areas of the city that weren’t heavily affected by the battle have been reopened to residents, but tens of thousands of people remain in government-run refugee camps in what was before the battle one of the poorest areas in the Philippines.