WATCH | Troops wind down Marawi campaign; military eyes weekend closure

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Scenes for “mopping up” operations and the sporadic riffs of rapid fire still punctuate the ruined landscape in the Islamic City of Marawi, as government security forces flush out remnant fighters of the terrorist Maute Group and methodically clear block after city block of boobytraps, mines and explosives left behind by the bandits.

Armored vehicles accompany platoons dispatched to make sure streets and alleys are made safe enough for the returning residents who have been displaced by the four-and-a-half month armed conflict that has all but decimated more than half of the city’s structures and edifices.

There are three more buildings to clear and some hostages, used as human shields, to liberate.

The endgame skirmishes included the extrication of soldiers pinned down in one building by the residual firefights. The rescue operation was backed up by an armored cavalry assault vehicle with troops raining cover fire on the enemy to facilitate the extraction.

As the tide of the Battle of Marawi turned in favor of the government, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) took calibrated moves to rotate out the fighting men and start flying them away from the battle zone and back to their mother units. The plan is to retain just six battalions in Marawi.

Blanco family after Battle of Marawi
Blanco family reunion at Villamor Airbase. Photographed by Bernard Testa, News5 | InterAksyon

Among the first to leave the theater was 1st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army 2nd Infantry Division, which had lost one comrade to death and 13 others to battle wounds. They arrived at Villamor Air Base to jubilant cheers and emotional reunions with their families.

Col. Christopher Tampus, Commanding Officer of the 1st IB, said: “We are elated, we are sad, to be returning to our mother unit, the 2nd Infantry Brigade, based in Tanay, Rizal. Because we still have our brother soldiers left in Marawi.”

Western Mindanao Command’s (WESTMINCOM) Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, at the departure ceremony, said, “let’s maintain the highest dignity of a soldier. Always remember that our oath is to serve the people and to maintain the integrity of our country.”