MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (UPDATED) – Two Marine soldiers were killed while 5 others were wounded as intense battles between government troops and the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) continued in central Mindanao.
Marine troopers pursuing the BIFF encountered the rebels at 4 pm on Tuesday, March 10, in the border of Pusaw, a village between the towns of Shariff Saydona Mustapha and Mamasapano in Maguindanao, according to Army Captain Joan Petinglay, spokesman for the military’s 6th Division.
Petinglay said early Wednesday that a Marine trooper under the 2nd Marine Brigade was killed in the fierce fighting.
“Sporadic gun fires can still be heard at the area around 1 am Wednesday,” she said.
She later told reporters another Marine died in the battelfield.
In attacks before this, the military already lost 4 soldiers, including a captain from the Scout Rangers, and saw 13 of its men wounded, among them an Air force pilot.
The military said they have killed at least 73 rebels, wounded 33 of them and captured 4 of their camps.
More than 80,000 people have been displaced in the biggest military campaign here since the signing of the peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) last year. Opposed to the peace process, the BIFF broke away from the MILF.
Major General Edmundo Pangilinan, military commander in central Mindanao, earlier said that among the targets of the offensive launched last February 25 is terrorist Abdul Basit Usman, who managed to get away during the January 25 Special Action Force operation in Mamasapano town that killed Malaysian bomb maker and terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir (Marwan). The Mamasapano operation however killed 44 SAF commandos, put in peril the peace deal with the MILF and caused the worst crisis for the Aquino administration.
"Basit Usman is still believed to be in the area. We believe the BIFF, this armed, lawless group, are the ones coddling and protecting him," Pangilinan said last week. – with reports from Karlos Manlupig/Rappler.com