The online news portal of TV5
MANILA, Philippines - Snipers of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) deployed along the stretch of the Maguindanao-General Santos Highway have slowed down soldiers’ offensives that used canons as cover fire in their hot- pursuit operations, Col. Mayoralgo dela Cruz, commander of the 1st Mechanized Brigade, said on Sunday.
The rebel snipers were not targeting civilians, only soldiers, according to reports.
The BIFF is a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) led by Ameril Umbrakato, who was expelled from the rebel organization last year for rejecting peace talks with the government meant to end decades of armed conflict in Mindanao.
“We’re operating along the hilly stretch of the national highway and it’s a very big area. Our soldiers have to contend with deployed enemy snipers. Hindi naman [nila] target ang civilians, ang target [ay mga] sundalo,” Dela Cruz said.
He dismissed the report of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) that some portions of the highway remained closed to traffic because of the rebels’ presence.
“It is [national highway] passable since the other day. But we’ve to secure it as we continue to press our offensives to flush them [rebels] out from the area,” the ground commander said.
Dela Cruz declined to speak on how the rebels can be prevented from taking refuge in Camp Omar, one of the biggest camps of the MILF in Central Mindanao, but which continues to allow the BIFM to use it as its lair.
Dela Cruz said the rebels have been peddling disinformation about their strength.
“Some say the rebels number 100, some say 200, others 300. There’s a lot of disinformation, but we’re unsure. We just operate. They disperse and then when there’s an opportunity they attack again,” he added, describing the operational tactics of the rebels.
The soldiers continue to use 105 howitzer cannons to pound verified rebel positions before ground troops launch assaults.
Reports said the BIFM has a strength of up to 1,000 fully armed men with several subcommanders in its fold.
Since the BIFM launched simultaneous attacks on August 5 against military and police headquarters, detachments, outposts and checkpoints in at least five towns, authorities have registered the death toll at 9 on the government and civilian side---4 soldiers and a policeman and four civilians.
The most recent fatality was a member of the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police.
According to dela Cruz, the firefight reportedly killed four rogue rebels.
Earlier, PNP chief Gen. Nicanor Bartolome sent teams of SAF to help the military decimate Umbrakato’s forces.