PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — A TOP-RANKING Armed Forces official yesterday said the Marines and Army troops are bracing for another round of combat with the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan, saying there is an intelligence build-up which is aimed at locating and pinning down the remnants of the group of bandits that clashed with government troops last Aug. 12.
Major General Benjamin Mohammad Dolorfino, Western Mindanao Command chief, said the offensive against the Abu Sayyaf would be surgical in nature, citing the troops will be sensitive to the observance of the Holy Month of Ramadan, which starts today.
Government troops recently captured a training camp of the Abu Sayyaf in the town of Ungkaya Pukan which Dolorfino said would make the bandits vulnerable as they no longer have a safe haven in Basilan with the fall of the camp.
Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said the intelligence driven campaign of the Armed Forces could spell the end for the Abu Sayyaf group, which recently killed 23 soldiers in Basilan.
“Well, it’s going to be a sustained and intelligence driven fight…(We) have better intelligence capabilities now. And we are putting local government officials, also directly responsible for helping us in the fight against the Abu Sayyaf,” Teodoro said.
He also said “tactical adjustments” are now being implemented on the ground, shifting from massive troop movement to precise surgical operations.”
The combat operation in the island province of Basilan is now coupled with “legal” offensive as the Scene of the Crime Operatives of the Philippine National Police was also sent to the province to help the local police force in filing charges in court against the Abu Sayyaf bandits.
Directorate for Integrated Police Operations west chief Director Felizardo Serapio said cases would be filed not only against the Abu Sayyaf members but also against the supporters and sympathizers of the bandits.
Serapio has formed a task group to assist the police force in building the case and its eventual filing in court.
Teodoro ,meanwhile, said the latest clash in Basilan saw the involvement of women and children in the Abu Sayyaf activity.
Reports showed that a wounded soldier had killed a woman Abu Sayyaf combatant who allegedly was armed with an M16 rifle.
Teodoro said the bandit group’s use of child and woman combatants has added to the high casualty in the part of the military, since the soldiers are hesitant in firing at children and women.
The Defense chief said this is also the reason they are now “calibrating” the use of air and artillery support in their fight against the bandits.
He said this is not the first time the AFP encountered children and women combatants in the battlefields.
Teodoro also assured the public that the Basilan clash will not affect the ongoing ceasefire between the government and Moro rebels.