ZAMBOANGA CITY: Three Army soldiers were injured in fierce clashes that erupted on Tuesday between security forces and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao province in southern Mindanao.
The fighting was so fierce in Shariff Saydona Mustapha town that the 6th Infantry Division radioed the Air Force for a pair of MD-520 attack helicopters to support ground troops fighting the jihadists.
It described the clashes as “heavy” and that they started at dawn and continued until daytime in the village of Pamalian, where gunmen attacked a group of soldiers conducting clearing operations in the area.
The wounded soldiers whose identities were withheld pending notification of their families were safely evacuated via military chopper at Camp Siongco Station Hospital.
The fighting came a day after President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to grant wider autonomy to Muslims in the troubled southern region during his first State of the Nation Address on Monday.
The Army tagged the group of Imam Minimbang, also known as Ustadz Karialan, as behind the attack on the soldiers.
Major General Edmundo Pangilinan, Army regional commander, has called on Karalian to “voluntarily surrender to the government to avoid further bloodshed.”
“It would be best that they surrender so that they can avoid more of their followers from getting killed and would also prevent more displacemenst from taking place,” Pangilinan said.
There were no reports of enemy casualties but many of the BIFF members were former or are still members of the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which signed an interim peace deal with Manila in 2014.
Both the BIFF and MILF were accused in the brutal killings of 44 police commandos in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao province during a clandestine operation called Oplan Exodus.
The operation plan had targeted a Malaysian bomber who was being coddled by the two groups in remote Tukanalipao village.