Army regains control of Lanao Sur town, drives away ISIS-inspired group
BUTIG, Lanao del Sur — Government security forces on Tuesday regained full control of this town following the capture of three major strongholds of a local terror group said to be inspired by the Islamic State.
The 10-day operation left 24 armed men and three soldiers dead. (An earlier death toll placed the number of soldiers dead at five.) At least 5,000 families were also displaced.
Houses, school buildings, government offices and small business establishments were destroyed in the fierce battle since February 20.
Brig. Gen. Gerardo Barrientos, 1st Army Division chief, led his men in a flag raising ceremony in one of the three strongholds of the Maute group, where the houses of group leaders Omar and Abdullah Maute were also burned and destroyed.
“This is my message to them. Never challenge the legitimacy or the rule of law in this part of the region because you will suffer from the forces of the armed forces,” Barrientos said before his men and local officials.
“We will not hesitate to use the full force of the army once challenge by any other non law abiding people,” he added.
The group led an attack on the detachment of the 51st Infantry Battalion in Barangay Bayabao on Feb. 20, killing two soldiers and wounding six others.
The military immediately pursued the group, which reportedly included minors as nembers.
“This day is historic for all of us because what of our troops did. From February 20, we resolved the crisis in the fastest possible time,” the military official said.
Barrientos said the first stronghold, located in the village of Ragayan, had state-funded school facilities and a three-story building – which served as an observation point used by about 30 snipers.
He said the second territory, surrounded by trenches and situated in the nearby village of Puktan, was used as center of the militants’ events.
“It is where one of the houses of Maute leader was located,” he said.
Barrientos said the last camp was where Omar and Abdullah stayed.
“We will continue to run after them so the people of Butig will have peace. They still have capabilities and maybe they can still recruit new members,” he said.
Barrientos also thanked the leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front for their cooperation by repositioning their men.
Mayor Ibrahim Macadato told reporters the displaced residents could now return to their respective homes.
“But we want to have a military base in our town so the Maute group can no longer return here,” he said. SFM
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