Jamaica Gleaner / CLARK, Philippines (AP):
The Philippine government declared the end yesterday to the militant siege of a southern city that lasted five months, left more than 1,100 people dead and sparked fears of the Islamic State group gaining a foothold in Southeast Asia.
Speaking during an annual meeting of the region’s defence ministers, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters that combat operations in Marawi were ending after troops recovered 42 bodies of the last group of militants.
“Those are the last group of stragglers of Mautes, and they were caught in one building, so there was a firefight, so they were finished,” he said. “There are no more militants inside Marawi City.”
The siege had sparked fears the Islamic State group would influence, fund, and strengthen local militant groups as it was losing ground in Syria and Iraq. The defeat of the IS-linked uprising and the deaths of its leaders have been a relief to the region.
Still, the length of the siege and the difficulty the military had in stamping it out has raised questions about the preparedness of the Philippines armed forces at a time when President Rodrigo Duterte has been suggesting that his country could ditch its longtime ally the United States.
The timing of the uprising was also disastrous, coming as the Philippines plays host this year to the annual summit meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, along with the 10-nation bloc’s Asian and Western counterparts, including the United States and Australia.
The two governments deployed surveillance aircraft and drones to help Filipino troops rout the Marawi militants.