Sunday, November 13, 2011

DTN News - MORO ISLAMIC LIBERATION FRONT: Philippine Troops Seize Rebel Camp In Fierce Attack

Defense News: DTN News - MORO ISLAMIC LIBERATION FRONT: Philippine Troops Seize Rebel Camp In Fierce Attack
(NSI News Source Info) TORONTO, Canada - November 11, 2011: Philippine troops Thursday scoured the grisly remains of a heavily fortified encampment that they seized in search of a breakaway group of rebels.

“Blood is everywhere,” said Lt. Gen. Raymundo B. Ferrer in a text message from the encampment. “The safe haven of kidnapping operations and terrorist activities in Zamboanga Sibugay has fallen.”

The seizure of the camp on the western coast of the southern Philippine island of Mindanao was the culmination of a three-day police and military operation against what officials say is a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a long-established Muslim separatist organization in the southern Philippines.

The attack, by all accounts, was fierce. The Philippine Air Force launched airstrikes against the encampment, which was defended by land mines and two .50-caliber machine guns. Two soldiers and at least 15 rebels were killed in the operation, which resulted in the evacuation of more than 19,000 civilians, government officials said.

“We could see the planes dropping bombs,” said Imelda Laquio, a resident of nearby Olutanga Island. “The bombs were shaking our house. My children were terrified. We have never had an experience like that before.”

Ms. Laquio, who was contacted at a relative’s house away from the fighting, said she fled the area with her husband and two young daughters because of rumors that the rebels might hide on the island.

“There was no military protection for us if the rebels came,” she said. “There was only the local police.”

The attack on the rebels came after clashes on Oct. 18 that left 19 special forces soldiers dead, and an ambush on Oct. 20 in which 4 police officers and 4 soldiers were killed. Though both incidents were linked to Muslim rebels, a military spokesman denied that the recent military assault and airstrikes were in retaliation.

“The police on Oct. 15 attempted to execute an arrest warrant in that area, and they were met with gunfire,” Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang, a military spokesman, said by telephone. “The police sought the assistance of the military.”

Many media commentators and opposition politicians have questioned the motivation behind the raid, which came at a sensitive time for the government. An uneasy cease-fire has been in place since 2003 between the government and the rebels. President Benigno S. Aquino III has met with senior leaders of the organization in an attempt to broker a long-term peace deal that would grant a degree of autonomy to Muslim areas in the south of the Philippines, a predominantly Roman Catholic country.

The Muslim rebels have said its forces were not behind the two attacks that led to the military raid, and the Philippine military has been careful to state that the group it assaulted was a breakaway faction not under the control of the organization’s central leadership.

“We have crafted a deliberate and calibrated response,” said Gen. Eduardo Oban Jr., the chief of staff of the Philippine armed forces, at a news briefing in Manila during the fighting.

Mr. Aquino is walking a fine line between appeasing a restive military that lost 23 personnel in those two attacks — including highly trained, elite fighters — and pursuing his stated goal of achieving a lasting peace in Mindanao.

“We will not pursue all-out war,” he said shortly after operations began. “We will pursue all-out justice.”

The rebel attacks and military raid took place as the Philippines held joint military training exercises with the United States. Since Oct. 17, about 2,000 U.S. marines have been conducting mock beach assaults with the Philippine military on the northern island of Luzon.

U.S. troops were far from the fighting in the south, and when asked whether there was any involvement by the U.S. military in the operations in Mindanao, Colonel Cabangbang said there was not.

Although he acknowledged that U.S. military advisers were operating in Mindanao, he said there was no need to involve them in the operation. “This was a law enforcement action,” he said. “And besides, they don’t know the area where the operation was conducted.”

Colonel Cabangbang said the Philippine military assault on the rebel encampment took place near the small town of Payao. The only access point to attack was a slim peninsula fortified with land mines and .50-caliber gun placements. The airstrikes were used to clear the entrance in order for land forces to launch an assault, he said.

He noted that most of the more than 100 rebels in the area probably escaped via small rivers that run through mangroves. Their leader, the renegade commander Waning Abdusalam, who was a principal target of the operation, also escaped. Mr. Abdusalam, the military spokesman said, has been implicated in the 2007 kidnapping of an Italian missionary, the Rev. Giancarlo Bossi, as well as other crimes. Father Bossi was later released.

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    *Speaking Image - Creation of DTN News ~ Defense Technology News
    *This article is being posted from Toronto, Canada By DTN News ~ Defense-Technology News



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