By Francis Wakefield
The Armed Forces of the Philippines-Western Mindanao Command (AFP-WestMinCom) said that the death toll on the side of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) has reached a total of 62 as military offensives have been intensified in a bid to contain Daesh-inspired fighters in Central Mindanao.
The Western Mindanao Command said government forces also apprehended nine BIFF fighters and recovered eight firearms and 28 improvised explosive devices and components since fighting erupted last August 2 in Maguindanao.
As of February 20, 2017, 41 BIFF fighters have been killed while 21 others wounded in the joint security operations launched by the AFP and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) against a BIFF faction under Esmael Abdul Malik, alias Abu Toraype.
“MILF ground forces maneuvered on BIFF lairs to purge terrorists in MILF areas, particularly in the municipalities of Shariff Saydona Mustapha and Datu Salibo, both in Maguindanao,” said Major General Arnel Delavega, commander of the Joint Task Force Central.
“Complementing (them) were our ground forces on blocking positions in most probable enemy withdrawal sites,while our field artillery units continuously provided indirect fire,” Delavega added.
Air assets were deployed to sustain aerial strikes on enemy territories and conduct close air support to MILF forces in Barangay Damablac, Talayan, Maguindanao last September 19.
“Troops sustained security operations on built-up areas, particularly in vulnerable areas, in coordination with the police, to prevent the enemy from conducting atrocities,” Delavega said.
Military troops preempted BIFF fighters from transporting a 60mm. mortar from Barangay Damablac, Talayan, Maguindanao towards Barangay Nabalawag, Midsayap, North Cotabato, fueling the joint security operation in Maguindanao.
Lieutenant General Carlito G. Galvez, Jr., commander of the Western Mindanao Command, maintained that the threat they are confronting in Central Mindanao, which has been instigated by the BIFF faction, is very much related to the Maute group in Marawi City.
“While sustaining our efforts in containing the threats in the other areas of the Command, the WestMinCom is very much in control of the situation in Central Mindanao. By following the principle of ‘Economy of Force,’ we sustain the operational momentum in Central Mindanao by employing the forces-in-being of the JTF Central with very minimal augmentation of air assets,” Galvez said.
“Very significantly, our strategic alliance with the MILF continues to benefit our security campaign as their forces confront the BIFF fighting side by side with our soldiers. With this, we are able to focus our forces in Marawi City, while winning over the threat in Central Mindanao and in other parts of our joint area of operations. And we will sustain our efforts to address the threat of terrorism in our area,” he added.