Two Suspected Pro-IS Militants, Govt Soldier Die in Southern Philippine Battle

Froilan Gallardo and Richel V. Umel
2022.03.01
Cagayan De Oro and Iligan, Philippines
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Two Suspected Pro-IS Militants, Govt Soldier Die in Southern Philippine Battle Philippine troops enter a section of the southern city of Marawi where Islamic State-linked militants engaged in battles with the military, June 2017.
Jason Gutierrez/BenarNews

Two Filipino members of an Islamic State-linked extremist group and a soldier were killed during a battle in the southern Philippines on Tuesday in which government warplanes bombed suspected militant positions as part of a “major operation,” the military said.

The military offensive targeted members of Daulah Islamiyah-Maute Group militant faction, said Lt. Gen. Alfredo Rosario Jr., head of the Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) headquartered in Zamboanga city.

“We’ve been monitoring this Maute Group. The operation [was] very deliberate. We made sure no civilians would be affected,” Rosario told reporters, describing the offensive as a “major operation.”

Maj. Andrew Linao, a spokesman for the regional command, said government troops recovered “two bodies of Maute members” at a militant camp overrun by the military, while “a soldier also died and three other government troops were injured.” 

Daulah Islamiyah is the local name of the Islamic State (IS), whose membership comprises fighters from several Filipino militant factions, including the Maute Group fighting out of Lanao.

In May 2017, Maute Group members and other pro-IS militants launched a siege of Marawi, precipitating a battle with government forces that lasted five months. As many as 1,200 militants, troops and civilians were killed before the military regained control of the southern Philippine city.

Aerial, ground assaults

On Tuesday, the military launched bombing runs before dawn to support an infantry mission against 60 Daulah Islamiyah members hiding out in the hinterlands of Ilalag in Lanao del Sur province, WestMinCom said in a statement.

Linao said ground troops assaulted the Maute Group fighters at around 2 a.m., unleashing a battle with about 50 militants under the leadership of Abu Zacharia. Military officials have accused the local IS leader, also known as Jer Mimbantas, of leading attacks against government positions in Lanao towns.

Zacharia faces arrest warrants on charges of arson, murder, kidnapping and terrorism, according to officials.

The military said the militants fled from the battle.

“As of now, we’re pursuing them – the enemy scampered,” Linao told reporters.

He said the battle occurred far from communities, but he urged residents to stay put and remain calm amid pursuit-operations against the militants.

Meanwhile, military spokesman Col. Ramon Zagala told BenarNews that Philippine Air Force’s FA-50 lead-in fighters and A-29 Super Tucano bomber planes carried out the aerial assault.

“We used precision munitions since our troops were nearby. There are no civilians in the area since this was in the hinterlands where we had identified the enemy presence,” Zagala said, without divulging details.

At least a dozen airstrikes were carried out “against dynamic targets as guided by the intelligence operatives,” a WestMinCom official, who knew of the military offensive but was not cleared to speak to the media, told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.

Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Maynard Mariano said this was not the first combat operation for the bombers delivered by Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer in 2020.

“There were a lot of aircraft in the area,” Mariano said. “The Air Force was in full support of the effort.”

A BenarNews correspondent in Zamboanga, Philippines, contributed to this report.

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