DAVAO CITY: Troops have seized a lair of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) following daylong clashes in southern Philippines, officials said on Sunday.
Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, a spokesperson for the Amry’s 6th Infantry Division, said soldiers have taken control of the Kabasalan complex in North Cotabato’s Pikit town, but the military operation was far from over after much of the rebel group escaped to the nearby Maguindanao province.
Capt. Calvin Macatangay, spokesman of the Army’s 602nd Brigade, said 50 artillery rounds were fired on the BIFF’s position in Kabasalan during clearing operations, and trails of blood on different locations were seen, indicating that a number of the group’s members were either wounded or killed.
The Philippine News Agency placed the number of BIFF members killed at four.
“Forward observers saw the BIFF members scatter, while those who were sent to scour the areas later saw blood trails that indicate heavy casualties,” Macatangay said.
Petinglay said soldiers from the 7th Infantry Battalion also recovered improvised explosive devices in the Kabasalan complex where clearing operations were going on.
She said troops were hot on the trail of BIFF members in Sultan sa Barongis where gunmen have split into several groups and escaped toward the marshlands.
There were no reports of military casualties in the fighting, and Petinglay said they were waiting reports from ground commanders on the extent of damage the militant offensive left on the BIFF.
“Wala nang encounter na naitala at nakuha na ng troops ng 7th Infantry Battalion ang Kabasalan Complex [There are no more armed encounters and the troops of the 7th Infantry Battalion have seized the Kabasalan Complex],” Petinglay told The Manila Times.
She said other military units in Maguindanao have been alerted on the escape of the rebels and that security forces have put up blocking forces around Sultan sa Barongis to prevent the BIFF from further getting away.
“We are still waiting for the report of the 7th Infantry Battalion as to the casualties of BIFF,” Petinglay said.
Around 200 to 300 members of the BIFF led by one Commander Karialan, were positioned in the area when the Army conducted the shelling that started from 6.a.m to 1 p.m. on Saturday.
According to Macatangay, the “focused military operation” was intended to drive away the BIFF in Kabasalan where thousands of civilians have fled to other barangays.
The military official said the BIFF went to Pikit early this month after the January 25 encounter with the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) Mamasapano, Maguindanao that left 44 police commandos dead.
The SAF troopers were on a mission to arrest Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Filipino bomb-maker Abdul Basit Usman when they were waylaid by the BIFF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The military reported that the two groups later figured in clashes at the boundary of Pagalungan.
The BIFF is a breakaway group of the larger MILF which signed a peace deal with Manila last year.
WITH REPORT FROM PNA