COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 27 Nov) – Three members of the Dawlah Islamiyah turned into ashes as 105mm Howitzer fire directly hit them while hiding in Pusao, Shariff Saydona Mustapha, Maguindanao on Monday as intensified surgical operation was conducted against terror groups hiding in the rebel infested marshland of the region.
Maj. Arvin Encinas, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command, said that the main target of the Joint Task Force Central’s surgical operation were rebels under the Kumander Bungos faction of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
Government troopers seized several explosives and firearms during the offensive against the local terror group after combat clearing operations conducted by combined troops of the 601st Infantry Brigade, including the 33rd Infantry Battalion, 12th Special Forces Company and 5th Special Forces Company.
Earlier, troops of the 57th Infantry Battalion conducted combat clearing operations in Barangay Pamalian, Shariff Saydona Mustapha that led to the seizure of three M16 rifles, three improvised explosive devices, and six improvised hand grenades.
Col. Jose Narciso, 601st Infantry Brigade commander, narrated the difficulty in the operation as activated IEDs were planted to ambush his troops but managed to outsmart the enemy.
“This all started in our Mamasapano campaign last week until we reached today in Datu Piang. The threat of activated IEDs is enormous as some were found to have been attached to phones, which were ringing when our men came close to their locations,” Narciso narrated.
But aside from Bungos, the officer said they also came across members of the Dawlah Islamiyah Maguindanao, a local ISIS group led by Abu Toraife, an ally of the BIFF.
He said they had to coordinate air assets, ground troop offensives and artillery fire.
Narciso added that the coordination and help of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), whose elements served as blocking force, in the Liguasan Marsh has been effective and led to the success of operation.
After clearing and securing the area, operating troops coordinated with barangay officials of Pusao led by Kagawad Abo Kalim to identify the bodies and subsequently facilitate the proper burial of the slain BIFF fighters.
Meanwhile, in Lanao del Sur, troops from two Army battalions are pursuing a band of 30 former Maute militants in Mount Malingao in the borders of Madamba and Madalum towns.
Col. Jose Maria Cuerpo, commander of the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade, said the militants fled to that direction after the troops captured their camp in Madalum town last Nov. 22.
Cuerpo said the troops found 14 tents and personal belongings, including black ISIS shirts popular among the Maute rebels.
“Based on the size of the tents and camp layout, we estimated their strength to be around 30,” Cuerpo said.
Cuerpo said the remnants of the Daesh-inspired Maute militants have been on the run since government troops killed their leaders, Abdullah and Omar Maute, during the 2017 siege in Marawi City.
Philippine ISIS leader Isnilon Hapilon was killed along with the Maute brothers during the Marawi siege.
Cuerpo said the remnants of the Maute group are now led by a certain “ Zacaria” who replaced Owaidah Benito Marohombsar or Abu Dar, who was killed early this year.
Marohombsar, an imam, was designated as successor to the Maute brothers and was considered to replace Hapilon as the ISIS emir in Asia. (Ferdinandh Cabrera, with reports from Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)