By Ali G. Macabalang
Kidapawan City – At least eleven extremists belonging to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were killed, while five soldiers were wounded in armed skirmishes that began before dawn Tuesday and were still raging yesterday afternoon in Carmen, North Cotabato, military officials said.
Capt. Arvin Encinas, spokesman of the Army’s Sixth Infantry Division, said the military initially launched airstrikes on targets in Barangay Tunganon in Carmen town after confirming the presence of Daesh-inspired BIFF commander Esmael Abdulmalik, alias Abu Turaife, and his followers at about 2 a.m. Tuesday.
Abdulmalik leads one of three BIFF factions, and has long been wanted for raising Islamic State flags in areas he and his men infiltrate.
Encinas said the “well-planned and coordinated” airstrikes killed at least five followers of Abdulmalik. But a source from the military intellegence community told The Manila Bulletin that the rebel fatalities have already reached 11 yesterday morning.
Citing civilian villagers’ accounts, Encinas said, the bodies of the slain guerillas were taken by their comrades and were immediately in undisclosed locations even before soldiers could conduct ground clearing operations Tuesday.
And in that clearing operations, the fleeing BIFF bandits were still able to fire back, leaving five soldiers wounded, the military added.
The military operations “are continuing until Abdulmalik and his followers are neutralized or flushed out of Carmen, the hometown of North Cotabato Gov. Lala Taliño-Mendoza where the Army’s 602nd Infantry Brigade has its main headquarters,” according to Encinas.
In a statement, Maj. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega, 6ID commander, said: “We are determined to defeat the threat groups and thwart them from doing terroristic activities in Central Mindanao. The continued support and cooperation of the civilian community should remain high.”
Abdulmalik and his followers reportedly shifted to North Cotabato after Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters backed by military troops engaged them in a series of clashes three months ago in Maguindanao.
The Maguindanao skirmishes left more than 40 BIFF and MILFF fatalities, it was learned.