Elite teams sent out to find Basit Usman

SKILLED snipers and close-quarter combatants have been sent to pursue the bomber Abdul Basit Usman and some foreign terror suspects being protected by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), military officials said Tuesday.

“The fleeing terrorists and their BIFF coddlers have splintered into small groups but our combat boots on ground quickly adapted to their escape and evasion tactics by inserting our elite forces to relentlessly hunt them,” said Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala, Armed Forces spokesman.

“We will not let them rest until they are cornered and captured. Fresh troops will be coming in from time to time to keep them away from seeking sanctuary in civilian communities,” he added.

Kakilala said there were some skirmishes Monday night and early Tuesday morning in Barangay Pusao, Mamasapano with small BIFF groups but no casualties have been reported so far.

“According to our ground commanders, these skirmishes showed strong resistance from the enemy, which make them believe that Usman and his foreign cohorts were still in the area and the BIFF is protecting and defending them. While close-quarter battles continue, our infantry were sealing possible escape routes of the enemy as our elite forces are penetrating the target areas,” Kakilala said.

The second three-day extension for the all-out offensive launched by the Army’s 6th Infantry Division led by Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan against the BIFF and Usman’s group was set to expire Tuesday midnight.

But Pangilinan said pursuit operations will continue to keep the BIFF fighters and the terrorists from taking refuge in civilian communities.

He said all possible supply routes going to areas where the BIFF and the terrorists were in hiding have already been sealed.

The groups on the run include those of Kagi Karialan, chief of staff of BIFF founder Ameril Umbra Kato; Mohammad Ali Tambako, Kato’s nephew, who formed his own Justice for Islamic Movement (JIM) with a handful of followers, and a certain commander Bungos.

Kakilala said forensic experts of the Philippine National Police (PNP) were doing cross matching of the serial numbers of the high-powered firearms that were taken from the slain BIFF fighters Saturday in Shariff Saydona.

Kakilala said it was possible that these came from the 44 Special Action Force police commandos who were killed in Mamasapano on Jan. 25.

On Saturday, government troops recovered an M60 machine gun and two M14 rifles.

Since the Army launched an all-out offensive against the BIFF, 73 of the bandits have been killed and 33 have been wounded. Four were captured. On the government side, four troopers have been killed, and 29 have been wounded.

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