Government forces seized the lair of a local terrorist group in Butig, Lanao del Sur, following a week-long offensive that left as much as 45 people dead and 20,000 displaced, authorities said Friday.
Troops took the “stronghold” of Abdullah Maute and his recently deceased brother Omar before Thursday evening, said Maj. Filemon Tan, Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command spokesman.
“Sadly, three soldiers were killed and 11 were wounded,” Tan said in a text message to reporters.
Intelligence reports on Friday indicated that 42 of the terrorists, including Omar Maute, had been killed, he said.
Soldiers are scouring the group’s lair and have so far found two M16 rifles, a homemade caliber-.50 rifle, and two rocket-propelled grenades, Tan said.
Operations are still underway in the area, though air strikes and artillery fires were halted to give way to ground troops.
“Tao-tao muna at mga tangke ang pumapasok, naka-standby ang mga attack helicopter at kanyon kung kailanganin,” Tan said.
Security forces have been pounding the hinterlands of Butig since last Saturday (Feb.20) with OV-10 bomber planes, MG-520 attack helicopters, and Howitzer cannons, prompting thousands of people living nearby to evacuate homes.
20,000 displaced, more still fleeing
A total of 1,207 families are displaced within Butig while 1,328 fled to the adjacent towns of Masiu and Lumbayanague, and 2,446 more evacuated as far as Buadiposo-Buntong, Ditsaan Ramain, up to the provincial capital Marawi City, according to figures released by the provincial government.
The displaced families are made up of more than 20,000 individuals from five barangays, according to another count by the Office of Civil Defense-Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
“Continuous pa rin [ang evacuation], kasi marami ring naipit doon, di makalabas. Naglalakad na nga ‘yung iba palabas kasi di naman basta-basta masundo dahil continuous ang bakbakan,” said Saripada Pacasum, assistant head of the Lanao del Sur Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office.
“May nadaanan nga kami kahapon (Thursday), ‘yung sasakyan nila binuksan na ‘yung bubong, nilagyan na ng gamit para magkasya lang sila. Kawawa. Makikita na sila (evacuees) sa kalsada na paalis,” he said.
Relief goods short
While those who are fleeing still face woes along the road, some families who have already evacuated are facing a shortage in relief goods.
Pacasum admitted that the sheer number of evacuees has become a concern for relief operations, so the provincial government asked the ARMM regional government for assistance.
As of Friday morning, a total 2,507 familes have been given relief goods and authorities are still working to distribute to 2,474 more.
“Kulang pa, kasi plus ito pa ngang nadadagdag na evacuees, so tuloy pa rin ang repacking,” Pacasum said.
Governor Mamintal Adiong Jr. requested support and the ARMM government’s Humanitarian Emergency Action and Response Team is expected to deliver more goods Friday, he said.
The Maute brothers’ group of about 80 to 100 men attacked an Army detachment last Saturday, forcing the offensive, Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said in a recent interview.
The group has been proclaiming itself as a branch of the Middle East-based Islamic State of Iraq and Syria but authorities dismissed these claims, saying there is no real link between the two and the local gunmen were only joining the ISIS bandwagon.
It is “allied” to a certain Ustadz Sanusi, an Indonesian conduit of the Jemaah Islamiyah who was killed in a raid in Marawi City in November 2012, Padilla said. (John Roson)
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