Government troops on Tuesday morning launched an operation, complete with "close air support," against alleged Isis-inspired terrorist groups in Lanao del Sur province, according to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
AFP spokesperson Colonel Ramon Zagala said the 103rd Brigade, together with the Philippine National Police, conducted law enforcement operations in the hinterlands of Maguing.
“Upon reaching near the target, close air support was given to protect troops from enemy anti-personnel mines,” Zagala said in a statement.
“Troops are still in the area still engaged with the terrorists,” he added.
Major Andrew Linao, officer-in-charge of the public information office of Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom), said a "bomb run" is being conducted in the province against the terrorists.
“Yes po. Confirm may bomb run air asset natin sa Lanao area (It has been confirmed that our air asset is conducting a bomb run in the Lanao area),” he told GMA News Online in a message.
3 killed, 1 hurt
In a separate statement, 1st Infantry Division spokesperson Captain Mary Jepte Mañebog said the military is targeting more or less 40 Daulah Islamiyah-Maute Group members under one Abu Zacharia.
The 5th Infantry Battalion (IB), 51IB, and 55IB were involved in the operations, the official said.
So far, two suspected terrorists were killed while two high-powered fire-arms were recovered. On the government’s side, one was killed while another was wounded during the operation.
In a separate media interview, Linao said that the “air strike” targeting alleged Daulah Islamiyah members happened in Barangay Ilalag around 2 a.m.
“Confirmed po yun, yung airstrike natin kaninang madaling araw at around 2 a.m. Ang target naman nun is yung Daulah Islamiyah diyan sa area ng Lanao del Sur,” he said.
(It is confirmed, our air strike early morning at around 2 a.m. Its target is the Daulah Islamiyah in the area of Lanao del Sur.)
Linao refused to disclose the specific type of aircraft used in the operation.
From combat operation, the military is already conducting pursuit operation against the suspected terrorists, according to Linao, adding that four units of "big" battalions were involved in the operation.
Military's two air assets used a total of 12 bombs when they executed a bomb run against the targets, Linao said.
Linao noted that the bombed areas are far from communities. According to him, there were no casualties on the side of civilians.
Zagala stressed the importance of the operation amid reports that residents were alarmed by the close air support.
“We assure concerned citizens who were alarmed by the close air support early this morning that the operation is necessary to keep Lanao del sur and the region safe and free from the threat of terrorism,” he said.
Bomb first, confirm later
In a statement, civic organization Moro Consensus Group chairperson Drieza Lininding questioned the military's action, saying it was done without informing nearby communities.
Lininding also raised concerns on the standard operating procedure of the military in employing air strike and asked if the presence of lawless elements were already confirmed before the bomb run.
“Bakit hindi alam ng mismo mga komunidad? ‘Yan ba ang new normal bomba muna bago confirm? (Why the communities do not know this? Is bombing before confirmation the new normal?)
He said the explosions were heard even in nearby Marawi City. He told GMA News Online in a message that his location in Marawi City is more than an hour of travel from Maguing.
The civic leader asked if the air strike was “a form of terrorizing” the people in the province in connection with the supposed protest against the killing incident in Marawi City allegedly involving an army engineering detachment.
“Sana po mas klaro at dapat may early warning system installed para naman po hindi matakot mga tao (We wish that air strikes will have a warning system so that the people would not be scared),” Lininding said. —KBK, GMA News