CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao –- To prevent a repeat of a Marawi City-like siege, the military in Maguindanao and North Cotabato is hunting down foreign terrorists sighted with local armed men in the mountainous borders of the two provinces and the marshland of Maguindanao.
But Colonel Gerry Besana, chief of the 6th Infantry Division-Civil Military Operations (CMO), maintained that civilians and non-combatants are spared in surgical operations against ISIS-inspired groups in Carmen and Aleosan towns in North Cotabato and Datu Unsay and Shariff Aguak in Maguindanao.
“They hide in caves in mountain areas in the boundary of Aleosan and Carmen towns,” Besana said of the group of Esmael Abulmalik alias Abu Torayfe, who according to Army intelligence agents, have been harboring at least 10 foreign-looking men.
“They escaped from the SPMS box in Maguindanao due to massive military operations there,” Besana said of Torayfe’s group.
“SMPS box” is the military term for the adjoining towns of Shariff Aguak, Mamasapano, Pagatin (Datu Saudi Ampatuan) and Datu Salibo, the marshland-bailiwick of BIFF.
According to Besana every day since Tuesday, the AFP using helicopter gunships, has been pounding rockets towards the village of Tonganon in Aleosan where Torayfe’s men sought shelter.
Civilians and village officials alerted the military about the presence of heavily armed men who are alien to them, Besana added.
Separate air strikes were also carried out at the borders of Datu Unsay and in Shariff Aguak, both in Maguindanao against another faction of the BIFF, the one led by Commander Bongus.
The Army said at least seven BIFF were killed in the operations in Shariff Aguak, citing civilian accounts.
Besana said the twin operations have been coordinated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which provided the military with intelligence information on the terrorists’ location as provided for in the GPH-MILF ceasefire agreement.
In a separate interview, Besana said the preemptive and surgical operations were meant to prevent terrorists from launching Marawi City-like siege in mainland Mindanao.
Close to 5,000 individuals have been displaced by separate military offensives in North Cotabato and Maguindanao, disaster officials said.
Immediate needs of the affected families have been attended to by government relief agencies. PNA