COTABATO CITY – Security forces continue to pursue ISIS-inspired Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters following the series of deadly clashes in the troubled province of Maguindanao where the battle affected hundreds of villagers in several towns.
At least 6 soldiers had been reported wounded and several militants killed in sporadic fighting that began early this month when BIFF militants under Abu Turaiffe, Sulaiman Tudon and Mah Nanding launched attacks in Shariff Saydona Mustapha, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Datu Paglas and Mamasapano towns.
This was also confirmed by the Western Mindanao Command and said focused military operations began at around July 1 when members of the 21stMechanized Company led by 1st Lieutenant Juvylito Lisondra clashed with BIFF in Pamalian village in Shariff Saydona Mustapha town. The fighting lasted for 2 hours.
In a timeline released by the Western Mindanao Command, it said the militant group also harassed troops in Elian village in the neighboring Datu Ampatuan town where 3 soldiers were wounded.
On the second day, July 2, one Mechanized Infantry Platoon of the 2ndMechanized Battalion and one infantry section of the Alpha Company, of the 57th Infantry Battalion also encountered at least 30 BIFF members in Pusao village in Shariff Saydona Mustapha.
The intermittent fighting was so heavy that the Philippine Air Force’s Tactical Operations Group 12 needed to provide combat air strike to support ground forces battling the militants for 10 hours.
The Western Mindanao Command said that on the same day over a dozen militants clashed with 23rd Mechanized Company in Elian village in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town while fighting continued in Pusao and Pamalian villages.
“Personnel from the 57th Infantry Battalion delivered accurate mortar fires to the locations of the enemy opting the rebels to scamper to different directions,” it said.
And on July 3, another operation was launched against the BIFF by the 33rdInfantry Battalion, Special Action Force, Special Reaction Platoon, 1st Platoon Alpha Company, 1st Platoon Bravo Company, 14th Mechanized Company and the 12th Mechanized Company in downtown Datu Paglas. Three soldiers were wounded during the close quarter battle.
Security forces managed to push back the BIFF and soldiers recovered improvised explosives there. Pursuit operation was conducted by the 40thInfantry Battalion on the same day in the village of Pidsandawan in Mamasapano and recovered weapons and a cadaver of a militant.
Attempt to seize power
The 6th Infantry Division said combined army and police forces had blocked the attempt of the BIFF to occupy the seat of the municipal government of Datu Paglas. It said troops, backed by armored vehicles and infantry mortars, engaged the militants in house-to-house close quarter battle that lasted about 9 hours. No civilians were reported hurt in the fighting.
Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, commander of the 33rd Infantry Battalion, said: “We confronted enemy snipers and improvised bombs as we seized the areas that are previously occupied by the terrorists. We also wanted to contain the fighting outside of the highly populated area some 500 meters away.”
And on July 4, troops from the Alpha Company of the 40th Infantry Battalion under 1Lt. Charles Joseph Ramos together with a scout platoon under 1Lt. Mario Flores and intelligence operatives clashed anew with the BIFF led by Nanding’s group and inflicted heavy enemy casualties.
Troops are continuously probing the area for the possible recovery of additional body counts as more enemies were confirmed hit due to body parts littered in the encounter area. Additional seizures include three M14 rifles, two M1 Carbine rifle, one Garand rifle, one Ultimax SMG 3 rifle, and three shotguns.
Lt. Gen. Arnel dela Vega, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, urged the public to help them defeat terrorism by reporting the presence of militants hiding in the communities. “We believe the enemies are just in the immediate vicinity hiding from our troops, that is why we are urging the people to report suspicious-looking people they happen to meet in the area,” he said.
Dela Vega said pursuit operations continue and troops have cordoned or blockaded the conflict areas in Maguindanao to prevent the militants from escaping. “Blockade are being conducted by the ground troops to thwart the extrication of the enemies. Aerial and land assets are being utilized to track down the fleeing members of the terror group in the immediate vicinity of the encounter site,” he said.
Government forces have maintained its security patrols in the areas to protect and facilitate the return of villagers displaced by the fighting. Despite the breakdown of peace and order and the spread of violence, the provincial governor Esmael Mangudadatu has not released any statement as in the past conflicts.
As the military pursues the BIFF, President Rodrigo Duterte called on the Philippine Air Force to remain vigilant in protecting the nation from threats of terrorism and external forces. “I therefore enjoin the men and women of the Philippine Air Force to remain vigilant as we intensify our fight against the current challenges of terrorism and external security,” Duterte said in his speech during last week’s 71st Founding Anniversary of the Philippine Air Force at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City.
Duterte said his administration is working on the implementation of the “second horizon” of the Armed Forces of the Philippines modernization program by 2022 “to further develop a modern, adequately equipped border security force’. He said part of the second phase of the modernization project, worth about P300 billion, includes the 16 projects for the Philippine Air Force worth some P139 billion.
“We will continue to face challenges as we realize our shared vision of a stronger and safer Philippines. It is therefore vital to innovate and invest in strategies and technologies that will allow our forces to perform their duties safely and effectively,” he said.
Duterte said the Philippine Air Force has completed this year the acquisition of air defense surveillance radars, utility aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles that complemented the existing air crafts. (Mindanao Examiner. With a report from Jelly Musico)
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