At least a dozen militants and four government troops have been killed in a series of intense clashes in the southern Philippines since Monday, as Philippine forces press an offensive against an Islamic State-linked guerrilla group, military officials said Saturday.
Government forces have killed at least 14 militants with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) during an offensive launched at the start of the week in the Ampatuan and Datu Hoffer Ampatuan municipalities of Maguindanao province, according to information released by the military’s Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) on Saturday.
“Fourteen BIFF members died in the series of operations, [five] of whose remains were recovered by the troops while others were reported by the communities. Military troops are currently verifying the veracity of these reported deaths to include the undetermined number of wounded,” the statement said.
At least four troops on the government side were killed and 11 others wounded during the past several days of fighting, the military said.
“Our operations against these militants are continuing today,” Maj. Arvin Encinas, the regional military spokesman, told BenarNews on Saturday.
Ground troops, backed up by air and artillery forces, were deployed to the area on March 2 to carry out combat operations “to preempt the reported terror plots” by the militant group, according to a statement from WestMinCom.
“On Friday, heavy fighting occurred in Barangay Salman of Ampatuan town where the extremists fled due to intense military air and ground assaults,” the state-run Philippine News Agency quoted Maj. Gen. Diosdado Carreon, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, as saying.
The BIFF is a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a formed armed separatist that has signed a peace deal with Manila in exchange for control of an expanded autonomous region in Mindanao. MILF leaders are now part of a transition government in the south, and many of its fighters have given up their firearms to join the military.
Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, the regional military commander, said in the statement from WestMinCom that government forces were pursuing a campaign “to pound down the remaining terrorists, penetrate enemy lairs, and ensure the safety of the people.”
Ground troops had overrun the rebels’ encampment and recovered their abandoned firearms and ammunition, he added.
The BIFF is one of several known groups in the southern Philippines that have pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS). However, BIFF guerrillas did not join other pro-IS militants in taking over the southern city of Marawi three years ago.
That siege lasted five months, and left an estimated 1,200 enemy combatants, soldiers and civilians dead.