Manila, Philippines (AP) —
Philippine troops, backed by airstrikes and artillery fire, killed 11 suspected members of an Islamist militant group near an inland village in the country’s south, authorities said Saturday. The military operation was one of the bloodiest anti-insurgency attacks carried out by the Philippine military this year.
The military launched the attack on Friday (1/12) after receiving intelligence reports regarding the whereabouts of suspected leaders and armed followers of the Islamic State and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
Military officials said they gathered near Tuwayan Village south of Datu Hofer City, in Maguindanao Province.
Army Major Saber Balogan, the regional military official, said government forces recovered the bodies of 11 suspected militants after more than three hours of gunfire. Troops also found seven M16 and M14 assault rifles, rocket-fired grenades and five homemade bombs at the site, Balogan said.
He added that there were no casualties from the military.
Members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front at Darapanan Camp in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao Province, March 27, 2014. (Photo: Froilan Gallardo/AP Photo)
The Associated Press news agency saw a confidential preliminary government report on the military operation that said two Philippine Air Force planes dropped eight bombs each weighing 500 pounds or about 226 kilograms in an interior area where the militants were spotted. Two military helicopters also targeted the militants.
Army troops were deployed to the fighting site, military officials said.
The military operation was carried out after 13 armed militants from the Islamic State surrendered along with their weapons to the military in the south, said Major General Alex Rillera, regional military commander.
It is not clear whether the militants who surrendered provided information that helped the military launch Friday’s attack.
“This is the good side of confessing and laying down your weapons. You can now live in peace with your loved ones,” Rillera told the surrendered militants in a ceremony on Thursday (30/11) in South Cotabato Province, which borders the province. Maguindanao where a military offensive was launched the following day.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (center) and leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, H. Murad Ebrahim (right) shake hands after the signing ceremony for the special law on the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao at Malacanang Palace, Manila, Philippines, August 6 2018. (Photo: Bullit Marquez/AP photo)
After decades of debilitating armed conflict, the Philippine government signed a peace deal in 2014 with the largest Muslim separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the country’s predominantly Catholic south. The agreement greatly reduced clashes and violence related to the armed insurgency in the south.
However, the military said, smaller Muslim separatist groups continued to launch attacks, including sporadic bombings in public places, and sometimes targeting businesses in exchange for “protection money” from business owners.
The Bangsa Moro Islamic Freedom Fighters or BIFF, which was the target of the military operation on Friday (1/12), consists of militants who broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front following peace talks with the government. The group then separated into several factions. Some of these factions then allied with the ISIS group. (ft/ah)