Marawi combat operations over – Lorenzana

MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – The 5-month battle against terrorists in Marawi City has ended, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Monday, October 23.

"After 154 days of the siege of Marawi by the Daesh-inspired Maute ISIS group, or after a week since the Commander-in-Chief declared the liberation of Marawi, we now announce the termination of all combat operations in Marawi," Lorenzana told reporters on the sidelines of the ASEAN regional security meeting in Clark, Pampanga.

The announcement comes almost a week after President Rodrigo Duterte announced the "liberation" of Marawi from "terrorist influence" on October 17, during his visit to the war-torn city.

Lorenzana said government security forces – both the military and the police – "nipped the budding infrastructure and defeated terrorism in the Philippines."

Government forces had been fighting a fierce war with the terrorist Maute Group and a faction of the Abu Sayyaf Group, led by supposed ISIS emir Isnilon Hapilon.

Local government thanks military

Crisis spokesperson Zia Alonto Adiong said the local government is thankful to the military.

"I must not forget to address this message of gratitude to all our troops who have tirelessly fought in the last few months in our city. Our gratitude to our splendid men goes forth from all our hearts in this city and the entire province," Adiong said in a press conference after Lorenzana declared the end of military operations in Marawi.

But Adiong said the hard work is just beginning. 

"We may allow ourselves to a brief period of rejoicing right now, but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead…. We must recognize that the end of the war is only the first step toward building the peace," he said.

Over a thousand deaths

Over a thousand people have been killed in the war.

In a press conference in Marawi City, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) information chief Colonel Romeo Brawner said 920 terrorists have been killed, but troops are still trying to recover around 30 to 40 cadavers left in the last holdout building.

On the government side, 165 soldiers and cops were killed in action, Brawner said.

A total of 1,780 hostages have been rescued, and 850 firearms were recovered.

Lorenzana hails cooperation

In Clark, Lorenzana said that in defeating what he called "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 and give our share of maintaining global peace, stability, and security."

"While we submit that this tactical and strategic gains will not annihilate the ideology completely, we declare that this achievement is clear manifestation of how our regional cooperation can lead to a decisive advance against the proliferation of terrorism in this part of the world," he added.

Lorenzana thanked other countries – in particular China, the United States, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Singapore – in the battle to liberate the city.

"We hope that this operational achievement in Marawi in the Philippines will be the catalyst that shall bring to the core future cooperation and partnerships not only against terrorism but also those that shall defeat other regional and global security threats," he added. 

Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella, in a statement, commended the troops, including those killed in action, "for their courage, gallantry, and sacrifice."

"With the liberation of Marawi, our focus now shifts to the enormous and challenging task of rebuilding, reconstruction, and rehabilitation of the Islamic City. The damage to Marawi's infrastructure and private properties and the displacement of thousands of residents require the government's unified and comprehensive effort; thus, we call on all our citizens to come together to move our country forward towards a peaceful, prosperous, and secure future," he said. – with reports from Agence France-Presse / Rappler.com