Renewed clashes between government forces and ISIS-inspired terrorists forced more than 2,000 villagers to evacuate to safer ground in Lanao del Norte, just one province away from where a 2017 battle destroyed the predominantly Muslim city of Marawi.
Officials said on Tuesday night, August 24, the evacuations resulted from week-long running gun battles between Army soldiers and members of the Dawlah Islamiyah-Maute Group from Lanao del Sur up to the hinterland town of Tangcal in Lanao del Norte.
Brigadier General Jose Maria Cuerpo, commander of the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade, said soldiers from the 51st Infantry Battalion first engaged 30 terrorists led by Faharudin Hadji Satar a.k.a. Abu Bakar or Abu Zacaria, the leader of the Dawlah Islamiyah-Maute group, on August 15.
Cuerpo said the fighting started in Madalum town in Lanao del Sur where residents reported the presence of the armed group.
At that time, soldiers were at the town plaza, discussing violent extremism with villagers.
Learning this, Cuerpo said, the soldiers quickly mapped out a plan using their artillery and drones for an offensive.
He said the terrorists fled but soon engaged soldiers in several fierce encounters in Madalum until they reached the town of Tangcal in neighboring Lanao del Norte province. The two towns are about 30 kilometers apart.
A 40-year-old soldier succumbed to a heart attack during one of the grueling running gun battles in the rugged mountain terrain of Lanao del Sur.
Tangcal municipal disaster risk reduction management officer Henry Nadela said about 406 families or over 2,000 villagers from barangays Pelingkingan and Lindongan fled after hearing mortars being fired and helicopter gunships hovering over their rooftops.
Nadela said one house in Barangay Pelingkingan was directly hit by a mortar round.
“The residents were frightened when they heard the helicopters,” Nadela said.
A report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the evacuees have sought refuge at the Bayabao Multipurpose Building and a gym in the poblacion of Tangcal town.
According to the UNCHR report, the municipal government of Tangcal had distributed relief goods to the displaced families. – Rappler.com
Froilan Gallardo is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship