Task force chief declares ‘total victory’ in Marawi
MARAWI CITY – “I would like to say it’s already done. It’s a complete and total victory for the troops.”
This was the declaration of Brig. Gen. Danilo Pamonag, commander of the Task Force Marawi, in a send-off ceremony on Saturday of the 10th Marine Battalion Landing Team (MBLT10) out here for Luzon to secure the incoming 31st Association of South East Asian Nation (ASEAN) Summit.
But Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., deputy commander of Joint Task Group Ranao, told the Inquirer that troops continued to flush out 20 more fighters who were holed up in the main battle area.
Pamonag said this unit could be best remembered as the unit that cleared the three bridges that connect the western part of the city to the main battle area where the business center is located.
“You showed the determination to finish this campaign,” he added.
Pamonag said one of the great accomplishments of the MBLT10 was securing the Mindanao State University (MSU) campus against the Islamic-State inspired fighters who laid siege in this predominantly Muslim city.
The military continued with the pull out of soldiers here as the fighting continued to become weak by the day.
The MBLT10 is the second major military unit that was ordered to packup after Friday’s return to base of the Philippine Army’s 1st Infantry Battalion.
“In the past five months, we started with some 3,000 structures or buildings to be cleared,” Pamonag said.
The MBLT10 was the first to reach the “finish line.”
“This unit was the first that reached the final objective,” he added.
The task, according to Pamonag, was very daunting and very challenging. But after almost 150 days of pushing, the military came to a point that less than five structures were left to be cleared inside the main battle area.
The full-blown battle in Marawi that started with what was a raid on a house where Abu Sayaff top leader, Isnilon Hapilon, the anointed leader of Islamic State in Southeast Asia, was staying.
Hapilon, together with the Maute group top leader Omarhayyam Maute, were killed in an early dawn assault operation, on Monday.
A day after their fall, President Rodrigo Duterte visited Marawi and declared its liberation from the influence of terrorists.
Pamonag said their mission in Marawi is one of the most successful urban battles “that we have participated” in the recent Philippine history since World War II.
“It is a test of determination,” he added.
Brawner said the remaining militants, which he considered insignificant, were hiding in at least five buildings.
“Firing of guns can still be heard right now,” he said. “There are still resistance from our enemies so or troops are very careful.”
At the same time, Brawner said 11 of 21 hostages rescued on Friday were still being verified if they were really hostages or dependents of Maute and Abu Sayyaf.
Since May 23, the number of military and police casualties had reached 165. The civilian casualties was placed at 47, while the militants suffered 897 deaths.
Officials said 1,777 civilians, who were either held as hostages or trapped in the crossfire, had been rescued since hostilities broke out.
“We are trying to find out how many hostages are still inside the war zone. But we are confident fighting will be over,” Brawner said.
Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, the commander of the Western Mindanao Command, said they might be able to proclaim the end of the war on Sunday with only about five structures remaining to be tackled inside the main battle zone.
But he clarified there were still hostages who needed to be rescued, which was why soldiers were still not rushing things up.
“But maybe we would be able to clear it by tomorrow (Sunday),” he said.
Marawi’s 200,000 residents displaced by the fighting are not yet allowed to return home as troops are still clearing many areas where the gunmen had left many improvised bombs. /atm
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