Military kills 50 BIFF fighters in Cotabato

AFTER less than 48 hours of fighting, the military claimed on Sunday that it had inflicted “heavy casualties” on the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters after continual artillery fire and a coordinated air and ground attack at BIFF positions in the Buliok Complex.

“Persistent reports indicate the BIFF incurred a lot of casualties during the military operation. More or less 50 were killed from the enemy side,” said Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc,  chief of the Armed Forces Public Affairs Office.

Cabunoc admitted that the military is still validating the casualty count, “but we believe that the BIFF indeed sustained many casualties due to heavy traces of blood in the area.”

At the same time, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin urged BIFF rebels to surrender or face the overwhelming military firepower.

“If they will surrender, that’s fine, but if they will resist, the government will throw everything it has against them,” Gazmin said in Filipino.

As of 4 p.m. Saturday, Cabunoc said troops of the Army’s 7th Infantry Battalion had already cleared the main battle ground at Barangay Kabasalan in Pikit, North Cotabato, which is part of the Buliok Complex, and again posted AFP troops to prevent the BIFF from returning.

Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, the fighting ended Saturday night after the BIFF fled to Sultan sa Barongis in Maguindanao, which is also part of the Buliok Complex.

Petinglay said the offensive started with artillery fire on Friday with ground forces and their air support moving in on Saturday morning on BIFF positions in Barangay Bulol in Pikit town.

“The BIFF forces who were left in the area withdrew towards the marshy area of Sultan sa Barongis in Maguindanao,” said Petinglay, adding that displaced civilians may now return to their homes.

“We are still awaiting the report from the 7th IB as to the casualties on the BIFF side and the recovered IEDs in Kabasalan during the clearing operations yesterday (Saturday) afternoon,” Petinglay said.

Cabunoc said initial reports the BIFF sustained heavy casualty during to the military operation in Kabasalan Complex in Pikit on Saturday.

The Army’s 7th Infantry Battalion (ID), supported by artillery fires, drove away the BIFF contingent, led by commander Karialan, from the areas they have previously occupied which sent thousands of civilians to flee.

The civilians fled the area after the BIFF bandits, under a certain commander Karialan, and the MILF,  under commander Jack Abas, clashed at the boundary of Pagalungan, Maguindanao and Pikit, North Cotabato for almost three weeks, leaving 25,000 individuals displaced.

The military said control of the Buliok Complex is considered strategic because it is part of the Liguasan Marsh which is believed to have a substantial natural gas deposit, which is now being eyed by the MILF.

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