The Philippine military said Monday it is ending a month-long offensive to pursue a Muslim rebel faction in the country's restive south. However, troops will continue to pursue scattered faction members.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines said its forces killed 151 rebels and injured 65 members of the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters over a four and a half week period. It also arrested 12 fighters as part of the offensive in Maguindanao province on Mindanao island. A skirmish during the past two days resulted in the death of a BIFF commander.
Armed Forces Spokesman Harold Cabunoc said the military “achieved their objective” in what the government refers to as an “all-out offensive” against the rebels.
“To neutralize at least 50 percent of the BIFF strength, their number. We [had] announced earlier there [were] about 300 of them when we started on February 25. And also, we have attained their camps, at least two of them, in Barangay Dasikil. One of them is a bomb factory,” said Cabunoc.
Cabunoc said the BIFF is splintered and now moving in small groups of 20 or even far less. He said these groups are “harassing officers” and planting improvised explosives in the vicinity of two towns and a marsh in Maguindanao. Cabunoc said small patrol units are continuing the pressure on the dispersed members.
The BIFF broke away in 2011 from the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front, objecting to peace efforts with the government. The Front signed a peace pact with the Philippines a year ago.
The military believes the BIFF are harboring nine local and international suspected terrorists, including a bomb-making expert.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has said the fighting displaced more than 120,000 people in Maguindanao. Cabunoc said some residents are being allowed to return home, but officials are keeping them out of the two towns and the marsh area where the small groups linger.
Secretary of National Defense Voltaire Gazmin told reporters Monday the BIFF’s leadership is steadily getting weaker.
“The end of this operation will happen once we let the displaced people return little by little and then development will come in,” said Gazmin.
The military said the number of displaced is down now to around 90,000. Officials say aside from pursuing the bomber Basit Usman and the splintered fighters, the military is focusing on rebuilding affected communities.