By Richel V. Umel
Philippine security forces have recovered the bodies of three more pro-Islamic State Filipino militants who were killed in new air and artillery assaults in southern Maguindanao province, military officials said Friday.
The discovery of the bodies brought to at least 17 the number of militants with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who have been killed since the Philippine armed forces launched an offensive against the group in several municipalities around Maguindanao earlier this month, the military said.
Troops found the corpses of the enemy combatants, which were left behind by their BIFF comrades, while clearing an area near Ampatuan town on Thursday, amid ongoing military strikes in the province, officials said.
“This is how heartless the terrorists are. They just leave their slain comrades behind,” Army Col. Jose Narciso, commander of the 601st Infantry Brigade, told reporters.
Soldiers overran the militants’ encampment where they recovered one anti-personnel mine and personal belongings of the fleeing militants, he said.
Locals and village officials were called on by the military to help identify the corpses.
“The recoveries indicate substantial gains and weakening of the enemy’s manpower and capability,” said Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the Western Mindanao Command.
“Rest assured, we will continue with our focused operations to penetrate BIFF lairs and totally eradicate their remaining members for the people of Central Mindanao to savor lasting peace and sustainable development,” he said.
Between March 2 and 7, military officials reported that 14 BIFF members were killed in fighting that also claimed the lives of four soldiers and injured 11 others.
The BIFF is a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a former armed separatist group that signed a peace deal with the government in exchange for control of an expanded autonomous region in Mindanao.
MILF leaders are part of a transition government in the south and many of its fighters have given up their weapons to join the military.
The BIFF, meanwhile, is one of several groups in the southern Philippines that have pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS).
Despite that pledge, BIFF guerrillas did not join other pro-IS militants in taking over the southern city of Marawi three years ago. That five-month siege killed an estimated 1,200 enemy combatants, soldiers and civilians.
Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato, Philippines, contributed to this report.