COTABATO CITY – Three soldiers and two members of the pro-ISIS Maute group were killed in a vicious battle in southern Philippines, security officials confirmed Friday.
Lt. Gen. Arnel dela Vega, the regional military commander, said three soldiers were also reported missing in the fighting which broke out late Thursday afternoon in the town of Tubaran in the troubled province of Lanao del Sur.
“Three soldiers died while three more are missing-in-action in yesterday’s gunfight. Troops transported the remains of slain soldiers to Iligan City for proper disposition. We console with the families of our departed comrades, who fought valiantly and paid the ultimate sacrifice. We lost not only brave warriors, but comrades who served the nation with such devotion,” Dela Vega said.
He said patrolling troops ran into a group of militants in the village of Dinaigan and fierce fighting erupted and lasted 90 minutes. He said troops recovered the bodies of the slain militants and two automatic rifles with a grenade launcher and rifle grenades, including an automatic pistol and ammunition. “We are more motivated to continue the fight against spoilers of peace and progress in Mindanao,” he said.
Dela Vega said security forces were advancing towards an area where militants were holding out in an effort to flush out and destroy them. “We are advancing upon the enemy target with deliberate offensives, hitting and inflicting heavy casualties on Maute fighters,” he said.
Security forces are currently fighting militants in several fronts in the neighboring Maguindanao province and on Wednesday, the military claimed to have killed nearly two dozen gunmen, including a Singaporean terrorist, Muhammad Ali Bin Abd Al Rahman alias Muawiya, a notorious jihadist belonging to the Indonesian Jemaah Islamiya and had been a bomb trainer for the Abu Sayyaf group.
The 6th Infantry Division said the campaign, which began March 11, was aimed at destroying a huge group of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, whose leaders have pledged allegiance to ISIS. It said those killed in the fighting in Shariff Saydona town were followers of Abu Turaife. The reports were based on intelligence information, but army commanders claimed to have seen or recovered pieces of body parts of those killed in an area targeted by military bombardments.
Over 100 militants were being pursued by security forces in the province which is also a stronghold of the rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that signed an interim peace deal with Manila in 2014. The clashes also killed one soldier and wounded at least 7 more.
The military’s Joint Task Force Central (JTFC) said air, artillery and ground operation were continuing not only in Shariff Saydona, but also in the towns of Datu Salibo, Mamasapano and Shariff Aguak where the group of pro-ISIS militant commander Salahudin Hassan was scattered. The task force revealed that former BIFF members who surrendered to the military had provided intelligence that allowed security forces to track down the locations or hideouts of militants in the province.
“Former BIFF rebels who surrendered to JTFC also supported the information being relayed to locate the specific locations of the terror group. Follow on operations ensured that the terrorists were confined in the area and prevented the spill over as our troops were deployed in the strategic areas,” it said, adding, the military also coordinated with the MILF to prevent any accidental clashes while troops were pursuing the BIFF in the towns.
Philippine authorities have blamed the BIFF and Maute for the series of terror attacks in the restive southern region. (Mindanao Examiner)
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