Philippine authorities on Wednesday granted BenarNews photographers access into Marawi’s downtown area and commercial district – a war zone until two days ago when the government declared the southern city liberated from a siege by Islamic State-backed militants.
At the same time, Philippine special forces members said goodbye to Marawi during a sending-off ceremony.
Inside the former war zone, BenarNews photographers found once beautiful homes reduced to craters, along with pock-marked structures of gnarled metal and blackened walls.
A Philippine flag placed by troops on a structure provided the only color in an otherwise monotonous gray landscape. A leafless tree was the only clue that downtown Marawi was once full of life. Nearby, a small mosque stood, its main dome and turrets heavily scarred.
The siege, launched on May 23 by Isnilon Hapilon, the Philippine leader of the Southeast Asian branch of IS, and other top militants was the first takeover of a city in East Asia by the Middle East-based extremist group. Hapilon and other extremist leaders were killed toward the end of the battle.
During the five months of fighting, the Philippine military leveled much of Marawi through aerial bombing as it went after the militants who torched and pillaged entire communities within the predominantly Muslim city of 200,000 people. The violence emptied the city, which remains off limits to civilians as the military conducts mopping-up operations.
More than 1,000 people were killed in the five-month battle. Among the dead were about 920 militants, 165 members of the Philippine armed forces and 47 civilians, authorities said.