World

Philippine defence secretary declares end of battle against ISIS in Marawi

CLARK, PHILIPPINES A five-month battle against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) supporters in the southern Philippines that claimed more than 1,000 lives has ended, the nation's defence secretary said yesterday.

"We now announce the termination of all combat operations in Marawi," Mr Delfin Lorenzana told reporters on the sidelines of a regional security meeting in Clark, a northern Philippine city.

He said there are no more militants, known locally as coming from the Maute group, providing resistance following an intense final battle, after which 42 bodies were recovered.

"Those are the last group of stragglers of Mautes and they were caught in one building and so there was a firefight, so they were finished," he said.

Hundreds of gunmen who had pledged allegiance to ISIS rampaged through Marawi, the Islamic capital of the mainly Catholic Philippines, on May 23, then took over parts of the city using civilians as shields.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and security analysts said the militants were trying to establish a South-east Asian caliphate in Marawi.

The ensuing US-backed military campaign to evict the militants claimed more than 1,000 lives, displaced 400,000 residents and left large parts of Marawi in ruins.

Mr Duterte travelled to Marawi last Tuesday and declared that the city had been "liberated", shortly after the South-east Asian leader for ISIS, a Filipino named Isnilon Hapilon, was shot dead there.

But the continued fighting raised questions over whether the city was indeed free of the militants.

US Defence Secretary James Mattis yesterday praised the Philippines for its success in Marawi.

"One of the first things I am going to do when I get there is commend the Philippine military for liberating Marawi from the terrorists," Mr Mattis told reporters on board a flight to the Philippines to attend the security meeting in Clark.

"It was a very tough fight as you know in southern (local region) Mindanao. And I think the Philippine military sends a very strong message to the terrorists.". - AFP

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