AFP ‘bungled’ first offensive under Oplan Bayanihan?

THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) may have ‘bungled’ its first major military offensive against the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) under the new “Oplan Bayanihan” of the Aquino administration.

“Oplan Bayanihan”, or more officially known as the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP), was launched last January by the AFP with aim of defeating communist rebels and other lawless elements within three years.

On Thursday, the AFP’s Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) launches an offensive against ASG elements following sightings of some its leaders on Sacol Island some 30 kilometers from Basilan province.

But, the military was forced to withdraw its troops in pursuing some 15 ASG bandits led by Khair Mundos and Furuji Indama after they landed far away from the ‘encounter’ site and allowing the bandits to escape.

“Malayo yung [landing] area at yung binomba kasi natin yung gitna ng marsha at yung tropa natin ibinaba natin sa heli – so binabaybay pa nila kung paano makakatawid doon,” Westmincom spokesman, Lt. Colonel Randolph Cabangbang said over phone.

The military official said their troops from the joint special operations groups, were dropped off by choppers some one kilometer away from the area were the Mundos and Indama and their men were sighted earlier.

The operation was launched after the military had information about the presence of top ASG leaders and their men in the area last Thursday, with a MG520 attack helicopter firing several rockets on ASG position at Sacol Island before troops were inserted by choppers.

“It’s a surgical strike on identified leaders, Khair Mundos and Furiji Indama and 15 of their men. The information came in last night and so we launched an operation this morning,” Cabangbang said earlier.

Furuji Indama is the leader of the ASG group that were behind in the ambush and beheading of 11 Marine troops in al-Barkah town on June, 2007.

The al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf, which the military estimates having around 410 fighters, has been blamed for deadly bombing attacks in Mindanao and Metro Manila, and also engaged in kidnappings for ransom and beheadings.  Anthony Vargas

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