Daily Tribune (Philippines)

Bombing ISIS-Maute or MILF?

- Amb_mac_lanto@yahoo.com

Last week, a brigade-size military operation was conducted in the town of Maguing, Lanao Sur. Muslim residents were roused from sleep before their dawn Soboh prayers by the sonic booms of jet fighters and the fusillade of fires and bombs, the scale and intensity of which was not felt since the Marawi War of 27 May 2017. Philippine Air Force FA-50 fighter jets swooped down on the town inflicting death, maiming, and destructio­n.

The town is no stranger to skirmishes between government forces and dissidents. There were encounters before to smoke out communist New People’s Army cadres maneuverin­g to expand their area of operation on the area. It is a thickly forested frontier between the provinces of Lanao Sur and Bukidnon.

Initially, it was thought to be either a military operation against the communists or drug lords. But that the government had to use fighter planes based in Mactan, Cebu must be a serious matter. It was only a day after that an advisory from the uniformed authoritie­s revealed it hastargete­dcampsof the remnants of the faith-based ISIS-affiliated Dawlah Islamiyyah Maute continuing violent campaign to establish a Wilayyat (province) of Islamic Caliphate in the area.

Residents support operations against violent terrorists proselytiz­ing fake Islam. They egged the military to hit them hard so that they can banish from the face of the earth. Unfortunat­ely, it resulted in a number of deaths which military authoritie­s cavalierly tagged as rebels. Their cadavers were photograph­ed and went the rounds on social media. If what they are dishing out in media is correct, so be it. But what’s worrisome is the integrity of their alleged intelligen­ce informatio­n about their target and the efficiency of their claimed “surgical” air operation.

No sooner had the military issued that advisory than the leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front issued a statement rejecting the military version of the attack. It was signed by Interim Chief Minister Ahod Murad Ibrahim who also helmed the revolution­ary group. He described the “firefight incident that involved members of the military and forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).” Meaning the ones targeted were MILF mujahideen­s which are still in the process of decommissi­oning as provided in the Peace Accord with the government. The military however insisted the attack was against ISIS.

In the aftermath of the one-sided operation is the denial by some residents of the alleged presence of rebels. They are protesting mutely, claiming the victims were ordinary residents which had nothing to do with Islamic evangelism and the violent campaign of the disciples of Abubakar Al Bagdadhi for an Islamic Caliphate, the mantra of ISIS.

Another concern is the ability of fighter pilots to zero in on their targets. Their record is rather spotty. The Marawi Siege is a case in point where several bombs from fighter jets went wayward. Some hit friendly forces of Marines, killing almost a dozen conducting mopping operations, another hit a schoolhous­e in another town while another, a residentia­l house far from the field of operation, betraying incompeten­ce.

The issue of who was attacked, the ISIS-Maute group or the MILF forces, rages. The latter has a camp, a kilometer away from ground zero.

It is a conundrum that can only be resolved thru investigat­ion by an impartial body.

This is a serious matter because it might taint and put in jeopardy the friendly and cooperativ­e relationsh­ip between government and MILF, whose leaders are now running the interim autonomous government. Any disagreeme­nt between the parties could be taken advantage of by the violent ISIS-affiliated rebels who have sleeper cells in the hinterland­s of Lanao Sur just waiting on the side to avenge their humiliatio­n in the Marawi Siege.

Meantime, the military and MILF leaders should tread carefully in dealing with the problem lest it will break the détente existing between them. This might also derail the smooth transition of the interim government to full operation.

“What’s worrisome is the integrity of their alleged intelligen­ce informatio­n about their target and the efficiency of their claimed surgical air operation. “The

issue of who was attacked, the ISIS-Maute group or the MILF forces, rages.

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