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Free Fire | | Asia, Counterterrorism

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On October 17th, Filipino President Duterte declared the liberation of the city of Marawi, Philippines from the Islamic State after a five-month long siege.

Despite Duterte’s claim, fighting was still ongoing with 20 to 30 Islamic State fighters remaining, holding about 20 hostages. This declaration of liberation came one day after Armed Forces of the Philippines killed 2 IS leaders, Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute.

The fighting began in May when government forces clashed with members of IS in Marawi. Fighters then gained control of the city, capturing key government buildings and setting fire to churches and schools. Government forces were attempting to arrest Isnilon Hapilon but did not expect to clash with the IS-linked groups. Hapilon, the leader of Abu Sayyaf Group of Basilan, was appointed as emir of the IS forces in Southeast Asia by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Hapilon then began uniting the other terrorist groups in the region under the IS flag. The Maute group was one of main groups and was led by Omar and Abdullah Maute.

In the 5 months that fighting has ensued, over 600,000 civilians were displaced and 1,000 were killed.

When Marawi hostilities broke out, Duterte declared martial law for 60 days across Mindanao. Duterte believed an extension of the martial law was necessary in order to stop the insurgency and the House of Representatives approved his request, extending the martial law until the end of the year.

Since it is illegal in the Philippines for foreign militaries to aid in actual combat, U.S. Special Forces only provided technical support to the armed forces. The U.S. provided the Philippines with intelligence and equipment during the fighting. Russia, China and Australia also helped by providing military equipment to the Philippine troops. The US-Philippine counter-terrorism cooperation has existed since 1999, with the U.S. providing training and other assistance to the Philippine Armed Forces and over the years the two countries have successfully killed key local terrorists in Mindanao.

The liberation of Marawi doesn’t mean the end of the Islamic insurgency. The group will likely appoint a new emir in place of Hapilon. Insurgencies have been prevalent in Mindanao for over a decade and the death of a leader doesn’t mean the end of the terror group.

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