Fighting in Marawi City is over

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Clark, Pampanga (CNN Philippines, October 23) — The Philippine government on Monday declared the end of five months of fighting in Marawi City and victory against Southeast Asia's "most serious threat of violent extremism."

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced the end to all combat operations against ISIS-inspired Maute terrorists after the military killed the last remaining local and foreign terrorists in the city.

"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," he said at the ASEAN Defense Ministers meeting in this freeport zone north of Manila. "Daesh" is the Arabic acronym used to refer to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, but its use is considered an insult by the terrorists.

Lorenzana said the killing of 920 of the Maute group including foreign fighters and its top leaders has prevented the spread of extremism in Asia.

"In crushing thus far the most serious attempt to export violent extremism and radicalism in the Philippines and in the region, we have contributed to preventing its spread in Asia," he said.

Defense chiefs of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are on the first of two-day meetings here in the runup to the leaders' summit in November.

Malacanang welcomed the news and reiterated government's victory.

"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," said Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella in a statement Monday.

In Marawi City, more than 1,500 kilometers away from here, Joint Task Force Ranao Deputy Commander Colonel Romeo Brawner said Lorenzana's declaration means the military has ended their assaults against Maute members.

"When we say 'termination of combat operations,' this means that we are terminating the assault, the offensive attack on the positions of the Maute-ISIS," he said.

Brawner said government troops will defend themselves in case they come across stragglers.

Lorenzana said a total of 42 cadavers — composed of Maute terrorists, two wives of fighters, and five possible foreign combatants — were found in a building believed to be the last stronghold of the Maute. Amin Baco, the reported leader of the stragglers in Marawi, could also be part of the casualties, he added.

"No more. There are no more militants around Marawi City," he said.

Brawner cited hostages saying that even the kin of the Maute had taken up arms. "'Yung ibang asawa ng mga Maute ay nakipaglaban na rin because they feel desperate. We believe na kasama sila (foreign terrorists) sa cadavers na ire-recover natin."

Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, Maute leader Omar Maute, and Dr. Mahmud Ahmad, the Malaysian militant who funded the war were killed during the 154 days of fighting.

Related: Military kills Isnilon Hapilon, Omar Maute

All 1,780 hostages of the terrorists have been rescued by the military.

The deaths of the top two leaders on October 16 marked a significant turning point in the crisis, and prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare the liberation of Marawi City from terrorists on October 17.

Related: Duterte declares liberation of Marawi

How the government ended the war

Lorenzana recounted the final push to reclaim Marawi, saying the remaining ISIS and Maute fighters were trapped in two buildings in the city.

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Eduardo Año said that the military gave the fighters a chance to surrender, but the Maute fight until the end.

The military will have to inspect the bodies to determine how the fighters died and who they were. Lorenzana said some bodies were "beyond recognition."

Lorenzana will now consult with other military and community leaders to assess the security situation in the city. He is expected to give a recommendation to the President at the end of the month on whether or not martial law can already be lifted across Mindanao.

Mopping up operations to take place

Meanwhile, Brawner told CNN Philippines' News Night the army will conduct "mopping up operations" along with other simultaneous activities in Marawi.

Mopping up operations mean military forces will again go through the main battle area from end to end to ensure no stragglers are left behind in the city.

"We're not discounting the possibility that there are still stragglers left behind especially because there are several canals, several tunnels in the area," Brawner said.

"We have to make sure none of them are left behind. It's either we capture them if we find them or if they fight back, then we will have to neutralize them," he added.

Aside from mopping up operations, the troops will also clear the area of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), look for unexploded ordnance, and recover or retrieve any cadavers they pass by and move towards Lanao lake.

The military will also assist the Department of Health in sanitizing areas of the battlefield to make sure it's cleared of diseases.

Brawner said they have brought in several K-9 and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams to help them with the process.

He said clearing operations are very "tedious and dangerous" job because IEDs may be left underneath the debris, and possibly explode when the debris is lifted.

Despite this, he said it is necessary to ensure no IEDs will detonate once civilians come back to the area.

Snappy salute

Presidential Spokesperson Abella honored all the government troops who fought in the war, including the 165 fallen soldiers and policemen.

"We commend government troops, including the fallen, for their courage, gallantry, and sacrifice. A snappy salute to all of you," he said in a statement. Government troops have begun pulling out of Marawi City as the task now shifts to rebuilding it.

Related: 'Mission accomplished': Some Marawi troops head home to their families

Abella added with the liberation of Marawi, their focus is now on the "enormous and challenging task" of rebuilding, reconstruction, and the rehabilitation of Marawi City.

Related: Gov't shifts focus to Marawi rehab as residents prepare to come home

The heavy fighting and airstrikes left buildings in ruins, homes reduced to rubble.

It will cost more than ₱50 billion to rehabilitate the war-torn city, Duterte and Lorenzana said. The government is looking to build 1,100 transitional homes by yearend for the displaced Maranaos.

Timeline of terror crisis

The battle in Marawi, which began on May 23, prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law throughout Mindanao.

Related: Duterte: I was forced to declare martial law to prevent civil war

The Maute also held hostages, some of them were forced to fight government troops.

Related: Maute hostages forced to fight gov't troops

Abducted Catholic priest Chito Soganub in a May 30 video said captives included church workers, a professor of the Mindanao State University, teachers from the Dansalan College Foundation Inc., carpenters, household helpers, children, Christian settlers, and tribe members.

Suganob was rescued on September 16, near Bato Mosque, one of the main strongholds of the Maute terrorists.

Related: Abducted priest rescued in Marawi

As early as June 29, Duterte said the rebellion might end in just a matter of days. But as the weeks dragged on, it became clear that government troops were facing an enemy that had long prepared for the battle. Some P79 million in cash and checks, as well as illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia left behind by Maute, and tunnels underneath the city were discovered by troops who did painstaking house-to-house searches for the enemy amid booby traps.

But on September 1, 102nd day of the Marawi crisis, Armed Forces spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said military operations have entered the "final push," and fighting was expected to intensify.

Martial law in Mindanao was supposed to lapse last July 22 in line with the 60-day limit under the Constitution, but Congress granted Duterte's request for an extension until end of this year "to quell the rebellion."

Related: Congress grants Duterte's request to extend martial law in Mindanao until end of year

Duterte visited Marawi seven times to boost the soldiers' morale. In one of his visits, he revealed drug money was used to fund the terrorists' activities.