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AFP, MILF clear villages of BIFF fighters

/ 10:37 AM February 24, 2015

Pikit, Cotabato mapPIKIT, Cotabato – Government soldiers and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels on Monday afternoon walked side-by-side in villages recently occupied by Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) gunmen here and in nearby Maguindanao as they jointly conducted clearing operations.

The military said the joint effort showed that they can still work with the MILF amid the controversy created by the January 25 Mamasapano clash that killed 44 police commandos.

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On Monday afternoon, soldiers from the 7th Infantry Battalion (IB) – with MILF rebels in tow – went to Barangay Kabasalan in a bid to flush out BIFF gunmen that might have remained there.

MILF rebels appeared to have provided security to the contingent of soldiers and rebels as heavily armed Moro fighters lined the three-kilometer road to the village proper.

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Asked for clearance’

“Prior to our mission, we met with their commanders to ask for clearance. Now, as you can see, we are united,” Lt. Col. Orlando Edralin, commander of 7th IB, told the Inquirer.

“As much as possible here in North Cotabato, we make sure that peace is at work,” he added.

At the village proper, MILF rebel commanders led soldiers to houses burned by fleeing BIFF gunmen, as well as freshly dug graves – where some BIFF men killed in last week’s artillery and ground assault were said to have been buried.

In all, the military said about 20 BIFF gunmen were killed in their artillery barrage.

“We saw the graves in Kabasalan as shown to us by the MILF in the area,” said Col. Noel Clement, commander of 602nd Infantry Brigade.

BIFF heavy casualties

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On Tuesday, soldiers with bomb-sniffing dogs continued to comb Kabasalan and nearby areas for BIFF holdouts and improvised explosive devices.

Clement said the BIFF had split into smaller groups and were last reported to be in the marshy areas of Kabasalan.

“It will take time for them to regroup because they suffered heavy casualties,” Clement said.

Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, spokesperson of the 6th Infantry Division, said the marshy area was “difficult to penetrate not just because of the water but also because of the water lilies.”

“They can easily use the water lilies to hide. In this area, they will always have the advantage,” she said.

Petinglay, however, said the difficulties would not deter the military from pursuing the BIFF.

“We will continue our aggressive patrols which are creating fear among the BIFF. They have fled but there is small and sporadic resistance,” she said.

Tactical retreat’

Abu Misri Mama, spokesperson of the BIFF, said they opted to abandon their positions after the military and the MILF concentrated the assault on the group of Kagi Karialan.

“It is a basic principle in the guerrilla warfare as taught by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Tse Tung to attack when the enemy is weak and tired and to retreat if the enemy is strong,” Mama said.

“I do not think that this is a sign of defeat. It is only a strategy,” Mama said of their retreat.

Edralin said the purpose of the joint clearing operations with MILF was to ensure that residents would be safe when they returned home.

Some 25,000 civilians from the so-called Buliok complex, which includes Kabasalan, fled after BIFF gunmen occupied their villages. The complex is shared by Pikit in North Cotabato; and Pagalungan and Sultan sa Barongis in Maguindanao.

Ground, artillery offensive

On February 21, government security forces launched ground and artillery offensives and drove away the BIFF from the villages.

“This is a form of confidence building measures. The important thing here is proper coordination. We take into consideration our truce with them, which is sacred,” Edralin said.

Petinglay said the joint operation in Kabasalan showed that confidence and trust make sense.

“Having some form of trust in organizations you have an agreement which is essential in order to ensure that there will be smooth flow of everything,” Petinglay said.

“Because if you don’t do that, you will not be able to reach your objective of peace,” she added.

Petinglay said Monday’s operation was not the first successful cooperation between the military and the MILF. She said a similar activity was also carried out last year in Lanao del Sur. Edwin Fernandez, Karlos Manlupig

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TAGS: AFP, biff, Buliok complex, Cotabato, MILF, MILF-BIFF
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