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Monday, March 30, 2015

AFP ends offensive vs BIFF; three rebel commanders killed

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Twenty-three members of the renegade Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and four soldiers were killed in fresh fighting in Maguindanao Sunday, a day before Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang announced the end of the military’s all-out offensive against the BIFF.
“Effective today, March 30, the all-out offensive against the BIFF would be ended,” Catapang told reporters in a press briefing at Villamor Air Base.
“After the relentless operation against the BIFF, 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 added.
Colonel Melquiades Feliciano, 601st brigade commander, said of the 23 BIFF fatalities, three are ranking leaders of the BIFF identified as Abeh Salih alias Commander Bisaya, Nords Indong alias Bhuto and his brother Salaudin Indong.  Indong is reportedly the brother of BIFF leader Kagi Karialan while Salahudin was his brother in law.
Catapang said Commander Bisaya and his men were among those who engaged and killed elite commandos in Mamasapano town on January 25.
Fighting in two separate areas in Maguindanao erupted at 9 a.m.Sunday after the BIF fighters taking advantage of the suspension of  military operations (SOMO) returned to Malangob in Datu Unsay town in Maguindanao to check if the Army indeed captured its camp. While there, they engaged Army Scout Rangers in fierce fighting that lasted until 3 p.m., Feliciano said.
The Army suspended military operations Thursday until Sunday to allow graduation rites of students in the towns of Shariff Aguak, (Pagatin) Datu Saudi, Mamasapano and Shariff Saydona.
“They thought the ceasefire will continue so the rebels regrouped,” he said.
Two Army Scout rangers were killed in clashes in Datu Unsay and two others were killed when the BIFF ambushed a military ambulance carrying wounded soldiers in Pamalian, Datu Shariff Saydona, Maguindanao Sunday morning.
Felliciano identified 10 other slain BIFF fighters as Muhad Kanapia Zailon, Usop Muhaimen Udtog, Radzak Lidasan, Maulana Kayatog, Sadriz Lumenda, Malated Tebungkog, Ulama Abdulhamed, Saptula Amen, Maslamama Utiyak, and a certain Kasla.
BIFF spokesperson  Abu Misry Mama denied his group suffered 23 dead. “We only have one killed in action and seven wounded,” Mama told reporters.
As of yesterday, Catapang said military troops killed at least 162 BIFF fighters, at least 65 wounded and 12 captured through series of attacks that include ground and air assaults.
The successful military offensive, according to Catapang has reduced the BIFF into splinter groups with reduced capability, what with huge number of casualties.
“We are ending the all-out offensive because they have splintered into small groups. Formerly, they were in groups of 50 to 100 but now, they are just 20 to 30,” said Catapang.
“Now that they splintered into small groups, we will also conduct small-group operation,” said Catapang, explaining that deploying hundreds of soldiers to run after a small group is tactically unwise for the enemies would easily spot them.
With the termination of the all-out offensive against the BIFF, Catapang said the AFP will coordinate with the regional government of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the province of Maguindanao for the safe return of some 90,000 evacuees back to their homes.
“We are now entering the new phase of our operation which is peace and development. I want to emphasize that still, we will continuously deploy forces to secure communities and deny the BIFF entry into their former enclaves in Maguindanao. We will continue to hunt down the terrorists like Basit Usman and his cohorts who are now hiding outside the conflict areas,” he added.
“Now that we have driven out the armed BIFF members and the small group of terrorists led by Basit Usman, we will focus our attention in rebuilding the affected communities. We will help the LGUs, other government agencies, and the national government as a whole in delivering public services to the people. We will support the implementation of development projects that are intended to spur the economic activities in these areas,” he stressed.

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