Military choppers pound Balt Island after ‘invasion’ of armed men
BACOLOD KALAWI, Lanao del Sur—The military on Thursday pounded Balt Island on Lake Lanao, three kilometers from here, in an airstrike conducted after unidentified armed men were sighted docking there on Wednesday, officials said.
Col. Romeo Brawner, the deputy commander of Joint Task Group Ranao, said the air strike was conducted early Thursday but no casualty had been reported so far.
Navy personnel and elite policemen on boats tried to approach the island following a series of air strikes by two Augusta helicopters until around noontime Thursday but they were met with volley of gunfire from automatic rifles and machine guns.
The air strikes resumed after that.
As of press time, Navy and the elite policemen under Task Force Lawa have not penetrated the island yet, which is unpopulated but served as resting area for fishermen here and nearby towns.
Mayor Mohaimin Dipatuan told reporters that fishermen resting on the island on Wednesday hurriedly sailed to the mainland when they saw armed men on four boats docking on Balt Island.
“They saw about seven armed men. They immediately alerted village officials, who in turn told me about the development,” Dipatuan said.
He said he relayed the information to the military, which conducted the air strike starting early Thursday.
Dipatuan said the identity of the men, who were heavily armed, were not clear but he said they spoke Maranao, based on what fishermen had told village officials.
Dipatuan said it was also not clear where the armed men had come from or where they had intended to go.
“We still don’t know if they intended to reinforce those in Marawi or they were fleeing the battle,” he added.
In recent days, the military intercepted armed men trying to sneak into Marawi City.
On August 28, government security forces killed 10 gunmen, who were trying to enter the besieged city via Lake Lanao.
Brawner said the armed men who docked on Balt Island here could also be trying to sneak into Marawi City—about 26 kilometers away—to reinforce their comrades.
A military official, who declined to be identified for lack of authority to speak on the matter, said it was also possible that the armed men were fleeing the battle zone.
On Wednesday, Brawner said some militants had tried leaving the war zone but they ended up dead as they had become easy targets for military snipers.
This was the reason, he said, why the enemy casualty figure sharply rose to 711 as of Wednesday from just 680 last week.
Brawner said in their haste to flee, the IS gunmen “cannot help but expose themselves to government sniper fire.”
The numbers, though, were not body counts but reports of military snipers hitting their targets.
“They are visible from even afar,” said Brawner of the fleeing IS gunmen. “Our snipers saw them and they were armed, that’s why the only option remaining is for our snipers to neutralize them,” he said. With a report from Allan Nawal /jpv
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