AFP launches all-out offensive against BIFF
Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. on Wednesday ordered an all-out offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Central Mindanao where the Moro insurgent group launched a series of bomb attacks to terrorize local communities.
Catapang said the BIFF, which with the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had been held responsible for the massacre of 44 Special Action Force commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, on Jan. 25, had also formed an alliance with the group of terrorist Basit Usman, who is on the government’s wanted list.
Catapang said the offensives were meant to protect the communities against the BIFF, which broke away from the MILF, the main Moro insurgent group, when the latter went into peace negotiations with the government and signed a peace agreement last year.
According to reports, the BIFF earlier raided Kabasalan Complex in Pikit, North Cotabato province, and fought MILF forces in Pagalungan, Maguindanao, burning down at least 15 houses, resulting in 25,000 civilian evacuees.
“I am saddened by the news that at least 20,000 people had been displaced by the violent attacks perpetrated by the BIFF in the hinterland villages,” Catapang said.
“We will do our best to protect the people and allow them to go back to their homes,” he added.
Tactical alliance with Usman
Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, the head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines public affairs office, said the all-out offensive was meant to neutralize the BIFF.
“This is aimed at arresting those responsible in previous bombings in Central Mindanao and other parts of Mindanao. There is a tactical alliance between the BIFF and the group of Usman,” Cabunoc said.
A spokesperson for the BIFF on Wednesday said it would meet the government’s all-out war with “heavy resistance.”
Abu Misri Mama, the BIFF spokesperson, even challenged President Aquino and politicians supporting the calls for war to grab a gun and join the fighting.
“It’s up to them. We will welcome them with heavy resistance even if Aquino and the senators join them,” Mama said in a phone interview.
Mama said no amount of combat operations would make them surrender and stop fighting.
‘Surrender? No way’
“Surrender? No way. We will never surrender. We will die fighting,” he said.
However, the BIFF’s resistance will be based on the situation as required by a guerrilla war, he said.
“According to the principles of guerrilla warfare, if the enemy is strong we will withdraw and we will attack if they are tired and confused. Our response will depend on the situation,” Mama said.
Mama claimed that when they were still with the MILF during the all-out war of then President Joseph Estrada in 2000, their forces suffered minimal casualties.
“Only 10 died in our unit during the all-out war while the stench of the dead soldiers was in the air in Matanog, Maguindanao. We will again foil this new all-out war,” Mama said.
Concern for civilians
He said their only concern were the civilians who will be greatly affected by the hostilities.
“This all-out war will really affect the civilians. The soldiers cannot easily see us but the firing and bombings will displace the residents. Thousands will flee to evacuation centers,” Mama said.
Cabunoc said that based on the latest intelligence reports, Usman was last spotted in Maguindanao. He said the military had a sufficient number of troops in the area to carry out Catapang’s order.
He thanked the MILF for extending coordination and support to the government. He said the MILF had been providing relevant information and assisting in monitoring the movements of the BIFF.
Cabunoc said neutralizing the BIFF would not be easy as the extremist group’s members were highly mobile and usually sought refuge in civilian communities to evade pursuing soldiers.
He said that as of press time on Wednesday, there had been no firefight between government forces and the BIFF.
“We are closely monitoring the situation,” he said.
Catapang said government forces would remain strong and united against a common enemy.
“We must remain united in our common fight against lawlessness and terrorism. Let us show the enemies of the state that we are a formidable force that will continuously pursue them anywhere they go,” he said.
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