AFP ends offensive vs BIFF without getting Usman

Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - March 30, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The military yesterday ended its “all-out offensive” against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) without capturing fugitive local terrorist Basit Usman.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang Jr. said the soldiers have depleted the capabilities of the BIFF, which has staged bombings in Central Mindanao to derail the peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“We have achieved our objectives, including the neutralization of more than 50 percent of their ranks, the capture of their bomb factories and the seizure of their enclaves or safe havens in different Maguindanao localities,” he told reporters in Villamor Air Base yesterday.

Four of 13 BIFF bandits killed by soldiers in separate encounters in the province last Sunday were bomb experts trained by slain Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, local officials said yesterday.

The military claimed that 164 BIFF members were killed, 64 bandits wounded and 12 others captured since the start of operations last month. Ten soldiers were killed and 31 others injured during the clashes.

When asked why the military ended the offensives without arresting Usman, Catapang said: “We are just ending the all-out offensive because they (BIFF) have splintered into smaller groups. That’s why we will now also operate in smaller groups.”

While the offensive has ended, the military would conduct pursuit operations against Usman and other terrorists in the area.

The pursuit, Catapang said, would involve a smaller group of soldiers.

“Formerly they (BIFF) were in groups of 50 to 100. Now they are just 20 to 30 so it’s part of our tactical move because if we move a hundred soldiers, the enemy can easily know or locate us or see us,” the military chief said.

Usman was one of the targets of the Special Action Force (SAF) troopers who figured in the bloody Mamasapano clash on Jan. 25. He managed to evade the police commandos and is believed to be hiding in Maguindanao.

The other target, Malaysian terrorist Marwan, was killed during the operation.

The military’s all-out offensive against the BIFF started on Feb. 21, almost a month after the encounter in Mamasapano, which left 44 SAF members dead.

Catapang said government forces already have control of the so-called SPMS Box, an area composed of the Maguindanao towns Salvo, Pagatin, Mamasapano and Shariff Aguak. He said BIFF rebels who would attempt to return to the area would be “annihilated.”

“We will continuously pursue them in their temporary hideouts inside the Liguasan marshland and even in the mountainous areas,” Catapang said.

Fresh clashes

The last wave of clashes triggered by the military offensives happened last Sunday and resulted in the death of 13 BIFF members and four soldiers.

The first firefight erupted at around 9:30 a.m. in Barangay Malangog in Datu Unsay, Maguindanao and involved the Scout Rangers and a BIFF group led by a certain Commander Bungos.

“The elite Scout Rangers overran the enemy positions after about an hour of intense firefight, forcing the bandits to flee with numerous casualties as indicated by the heavy pools of blood along their escape route,” Catapang said.

“No one was injured among the Rangers, who continuously pursued the bandits in the marshlands,” he added.

Another firefight broke out at around 9:50 a.m. in Barangay Pamalian in Shariff Saydona town and involved troops from the Army’s 34th battalion and BIFF members led by a certain Yusoph Abesalih or Commander Bisaya.

Abesalih is believed to be one of the BIFF rebels who clashed with SAF troopers in Mamasapano last Jan. 25.

Aside from Abesalih, also killed were Norodin Indong and his brother Salahudin. – With John Unson


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