Rebel Casualties in Southern Philippine Assault Reach 31: Military

Mark Navales
Cotabato, Philippines
170511-PH-militants-620.jpg Maj. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega, commander of the Philippine military’s 6th Infantry Division, answers questions from reporters in Cotabato while displaying firearms recovered from members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Liberation Front who were killed during five days of clashes in the south, May 11, 2017.
Mark Navales/BenarNews

Eleven more members of rogue Philippine Muslim rebel group have been killed in five days of clashes in the south, raising the death toll on the enemy side to 31, the military said Thursday.

Military operations were focused on three towns in the province of Maguindanao, where members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were believed to be hiding, 6th Infantry Division chief Maj. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega said.

Dela Vega said those being sought include a BIFF leader named Ismael Abubakar (also known as Bungos), who has resorted to criminality in the southern Philippines since BIFF broke away from the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), when the separatist group opted for a peace deal in favor of autonomy three years ago.

Earlier, the military erroneously reported that Bungos was one of two rebel commanders killed in the initial attack. But upon verification by ground troops who have managed to enter the rebel strongholds, it was learned that his slain nephew was mistaken for Bungos.

“The number of casualties that the BIFF suffered has already increased from the initial report of 20 of their members killed on the first day to at least 31 killed and another four wounded to date,” Dela Vega announced, as he presented firearms and other paraphernalia left behind by the gunmen.

He said the number could still rise “pending the verification and validation” of troops in the area. Military officials earlier said that seven soldiers were wounded in the clash.

Dela Vega said Bungos was believed being aided by “a number of followers, including six Indonesian nationals involved in terroristic activities in the region, particularly on bomb making.”

He declined to give more information about the foreign fighters, citing the sensitivity of the information.

It is common for foreign fighters to be in the south because MILF used to operate one of the largest rebel training bases in Southeast Asia. When the group signed a peace deal, the foreign militants gravitated toward the splinter groups, analysts have said.

In 2015, 44 commandos of the police Special Action Force were killed in clashes with the guerrillas after they strayed into an MILF camp in an operation to neutralize Zulkilfi bin Hir, (alias Marwan), a wanted Malaysian bomb-maker hiding in Mindanao.

Marwan was killed, but the police commandos came under heavy fire from MILF, who claimed they were kept in the dark about the operation contrary to the peace agreement. According to the deal, both parties agreed to work together in apprehending wanted personalities in areas controlled by the rebels.

Dela Vega said the troops used air, artillery and armor assets in going after the BIFF. He said the MILF had been informed of the planned government attacks against the rogue militants this time around to ensure “that no skirmishes or misencounter” would occur.

The fighting earlier this week occurred days after police and troops targeted a BIFF commander accused of drug trafficking in a separate operation. That offensive led to the deaths of a mother and her two young children who were shot by the fleeing BIFF gunmen, officials said.


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