44 killed as army troops, BIFF militants clash in Philippines

This photo taken on March 8, 2018 shows Philippine soldiers standing next to their armoured personnel carriers as they man a checkpoint along a highway near the clash site between government troops and islamic militants in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province on the southern island of Mindanao. (AFP/Ferdinandh Cabrera)
MANILA: A four-day battle between government forces and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in southern Philippines have left at least 44 militants dead and 26 wounded, an army official said.

Lt. Col. Gerry Besana of the Army 6th Infantry Division (6ID) Civil Military Operations (CMO) said the clashes occurred in three villages in Maguindanao province.
Capt. Arvin Encinas, 6ID spokesman, told Arab News the firefight broke out around 6:00 a.m. on Thursday at Barangay Lower Salbu, Datu Saudi Ampatuan town in Maguindanao. He said soldiers were conducting security operations in the area when they spotted a group of about 50 extremists led by a certain Commander Peni of the BIFF faction under Imam Minimbang alias Commander Karialan.

According to Encinas, the troops were dispatched to the area following reports from the civilian community on the presence of armed men in their village.
“As soon as our soldiers spotted the armed group, they immediately fired at enemy triggering the firefight,” the 6ID spokesman said.

Besana, meanwhile, said the fighting lasted until Friday. He stressed, however, that the military have not called off operations so troops are continuously pursuing the militants.
The official likewise said that while those initially encountered by government troops were BIFF gunmen under Karialan, from two other BIFF factions headed by Imam Bongos, alias Commander Bongos, and Esmael Abdulmalik, alias Abu Toraife, reinforced their comrades and joined in the firefight that spread to Barangay Tipango also in Datu Saudi Ampatuan and Barangay Malangog in neighboring town of Datu Unsay Ampatuan.

He further noted that with the onset of the fighting, soldiers were already able to take down at least six BIFF militants during ground operations. And on the second day, with artillery and airstrike support, government troops killed more militants, bringing the number of fatalities to 44.

Of the slain BIFF member, 34 were reportedly identified by their families. Several improvised bombs were likewise recovered by the soldiers.
“So, we are still going after 200- plus members of the BIFF,” Besana said, explaining that military estimate of the total strength of the militant group is approximately 300.
The pursuing troops, he added, had to get into chest-deep waters to pursue the enemy as the clashes took place in Maguindanao province’s vast marshland.

BIFF was originally led by commander Ameril Umbra Kato who bolted out from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) following the botched signing in 2008 of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD) which the Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional. But after Kato’s death in 2015, the BIFF splintered into three factions led by Karialan, Bongos, and Toraife.

Source: http://www.arabnews.com/node/1263921/world


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