AFTER the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters burned homes in Central Mindanao and mocked the military to a “rematch,” the Armed Forces finally unleashed on Friday an offensive against bandit positions in the Maguindanao marshland.
The Army’s 6th Infantry Division launched the offensive Friday evening with mortar fire at BIFF positions at the Liguasan Marsh, according to division spokesperson Capt. Joanne Petinglay.
Petinglay said that was followed by more artillery fire, including 105mm howitzers, on Saturday morning before the troops under the Seventh Infantry Battalion, under Lt. Col. Audie Edralin moved into the area supported by two MG-520 helicopter gunships.
The ground troops soon clashed with BIFF rebels led by Kagi Karialan in Barangay Bulol, Pagalungan, Maguindanao, Petinglay said.
“Fighting is still on going, the Army offensive is against the BIFF,” Petinglay said Saturday afternoon.
Petinglay said the MILF forces in Pagalungan and Pikit, Maguindanao stepped aside to allow the military operations, but it was not a joint operation.
Kagi Karialan’s group occupied at least four villages abandoned by residents when his group clashed with the MILF that left Commander Falcon of the MILF dead and four of his men.
As the BIFF occupied ghost communities, they torched at least 15 houses of Moro civilians who fled to the town center since last Sunday.
BIFF spokesperson Abu Misry Mama, who challenged the military to a “rematch” so the AFP could take back the weapons the BIFF looted from the slain police commandos in Mamasapano, said in a radio interview that the government artillery fire had hit civilians.
But Petinglay said the civilians in the area had already fled because of the BIFF attacks.
“No casualty was reported from both sides but the fighting was on going and it was very far from civilian communities,” she said.
Elements of the 7th IB backed by elements from 40th Infantry Battalion have been deployed in the towns of Pagalungan, Maguindanao and Pikit and Aleosan, in North Cotabato to prevent the BIFF from advancing.
Residents in these villages have claimed they heard loud explosions directed towards Barangay Kabasalan, a village both part of Maguindanao and North Cotabato since it was located in the boundary.
Petinglay said the Army offensive will continue until the BIFF are driven out of North Cotabato and Pagalungan.
The Pagalungan-Pikit skirmishes involving BIFF and MILF came days after the Mamasapano, Maguindanao encounter that left 44 police commandos, 18 Moro rebels, four civilians and Zulkifli bin Hir alias “Marwan” dead.
On Friday, BIFF spokesman Abu Misry Mama told a radio interview that the SAF weapons were not “borrowed” but taken from the slain commandos.