11 terrorists killed in AFP strikes
The Armed Forces of the Philippines yesterday said 11 members of the Islamic extremist Maute Group had been killed and five others wounded during military operations in Butig, Lanao del Sur province, that began on Saturday.
The military launched the offensive two days after 200-300 members of the group stormed the town center, occupied the old, abandoned municipal hall and even raised the flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) there.
“This prompted the immediate conduct of military operations focused on dislodging the lawless group. Two soldiers were slightly wounded while 11 members of the Maute Group were killed and at least five wounded,” Marine Col. Edgard Arevalo, AFP public affairs office head, said in a statement. The report could not be independently confirmed.
Arevalo advised residents remaining in the vicinity of the building to leave their homes as the AFP expected the clashes to last for a week.
The military deployed planes to strike at the structures near the town hall, such as the public high school and the mosque that were also being occupied by the Maute Group fighters.
“The group has … long been professing allegiance to the foreign terror group. This is still part of [its] agenda in courting support and encouraging similar-minded individuals to support Isis,” Arevalo said.
The AFP spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, echoed Arevalo’s statements in a television interview.
“This is something that we see as an attempt of the Maute Group to attract attention, to attract recruits, to project a degree of force which is entirely a propaganda activity,” Padilla said.
He said the military’s strength in the area was “adequate” and the scene of the fighting was “well-secured.”
The old town hall used to be the group’s stronghold until it was recaptured by the military in February. The group’s final stronghold, Camp Darul Iman, a former Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) military camp in Butig, fell to the military in June.
The military believes that members of the Maute Group members were responsible for the bomb attack in the Davao City night market that left 15 dead in September partly in revenge for the June debacle.
The Maute Group, composed of former MILF fighters, is being led by brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute, who have pledged allegiance to Isis and aim to set up an similar Islamic state in Mindanao.
The presidential adviser on the peace process, Jesus Dureza, said in a statement yesterday that MILF troops were coordinating with government forces in Butig. He said the MILF was assisting evacuees.
Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command based in Zamboanga City, said gun battles were continuing on Sunday.
Reinforcements were sent on Saturday “and more deployments are happening,” Tan said.
On Saturday, Tan said Maute guerrillas fired at soldiers conducting clearing operations following an air raid on suspected hideouts of the group.
He said the town had been deserted, adding the residents had fled after getting information of the attack.
On Saturday night, President Duterte raised the possibility of negotiating with the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute Group.
“The Isis is really dangerous. That is why you have to use your head. Do not drive them to despair because that is precisely what happened in Africa,” the President told the gathering of the San Beda College of Law Alumni Association in Taguig City on Saturday.
Without elaborating, Mr. Duterte said he believed in the strategy of then President Fidel Ramos in dealing with the Moro “rebellion.”
Said the President: “What will we do? We will just have to wait. We will just have to talk and talk. What we will pass on to the next generation is a talking administration.”
Quoting Ramos, the President said “there can never be a real fight” in Mindanao.
“You just have to talk,” he said. “I was asked pointblank questions by the media in Zamboanga. They said, ‘Mr. President, this is the sixth time you visited the wounded and dead soldiers. When will you end the Abu Sayyaf?’ I said, ‘What do you want?’ I mean I could do it. I could burn Jolo now. I could bomb the place.”
“And in the mountains, I will order carpet bombings and I would tell the military after the operation, ‘I don’t want to see a single person standing.’ Do you want me to do that? And if I kill children and innocent people and all, can we survive as a nation?” he lamented.
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