Ellie Aben | Published — Wednesday 20 December 2017
Philippine Armed Forces. (AFP)
MANILA: Five Daesh-inspired militants died in an airstrike on a known hideout of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in southern Philippines early on Tuesday, the military said.
Capt. Arvin Encinas, spokesperson for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said five government troops were wounded in the air and ground operations that started around 3:30 a.m.
In a telephone interview, Encinas told Arab News that the Philippine Air Force bombarded the base of BIFF leader Esmail Abdulmalik, also known as Abu Turaife, at Barangay Tunganon area in North Cotabato province. Soldiers were later sent in to contain Abdulmalik and his men in the area.
Abdulmalik is the leader of a third faction of the BIFF. His group uses the Daesh flag as its banner.
When asked how many BIFF forces were in the area, Encinas said: “Enough to stage atrocities.”
“The operation was conducted to weed out the terrorist group and to free the communities from the terror menace brought about by the BIFF,” Encinas said.
According to official information received on the ground, five BIFF fighters were killed during the airstrike.
Government forces have been pursuing Abdulmalik’s group for more than two months. Focused military operations have now begun in the neighboring province of Maguindanao.
In previous operations, soldiers overran three BIFF camps. As a result of continuing military offensives, Abdulmalik and his group were driven out of their enclaves and forced to move to North Cotabato.
In Tuesday’s offensives, Encinas said that all safety procedures were undertaken for the “well-coordinated, deliberately planned, and specific-target operation.”
The army initially said that “the targeted areas are far from the local communities, hence the operation was conducted with outmost consideration that the civilian populace is far from harm’s way, ensuring their safety and protection.”
However, Encinas said that 180 families had been displaced due to the clashes.
Maj. Gen. Dela Vega, commander, Joint Task Force Central (JTF Central), said government forces were determined to defeat all threat groups and thwart their activities in Central Mindanao.
“The continued support and cooperation of the community hasten and complement the ability of JTF Central to prevent and counter the efforts of the radical extremist groups in sowing fear and violence in the area of operation,” he said.
A splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the BIFF, broke into three factions in 2014. One of the factions, led by Abdulmalik and commonly known as the Toraife group, pledged allegiance to Daesh along with the Abu Sayyaf Group and Maute Group.