Troops seize jungle hideout after clashes with pro-Daesh fighters in Philippines

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Security forces have staged a relentless campaign against the militants in recent months. (File/AFP)
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Security forces have staged a relentless campaign against the militants in recent months. (File/AFP)
Updated 25 January 2019

Troops seize jungle hideout after clashes with pro-Daesh fighters in Philippines

  • Three members of the radical Maute group were killed and three soldiers wounded in the attack
  • Fighting broke out a few days after the historic plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), which offers greater autonomy to the Philippines’ Muslim minority

MANILA: Government security forces supported by artillery and helicopters have seized a pro-Daesh militant stronghold in the southern Philippines following a series of running skirmishes with extremists.
Three members of the radical Maute group were killed and three soldiers wounded in the attack, an army spokesman said on Friday.
Fighting broke out a few days after the historic plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), which offers greater autonomy to the Philippines’ Muslim minority.
Col. Romeo Brawner, Jr., the 103rd Infantry Brigade commander, said fighting erupted between troops and remnants of the Maute group early on Thursday in Sultan Dumalondong, Lanao del Sur, about 50 km from Marawi City.
The city was the site of the bloody five-month siege by militants in 2017.
Residents in nearby communities were told to stay calm and remain indoors during more than 10 hours of skirmishing.
The attack on Thursday followed a relentless campaign by security forces against the militants in recent months.
“We acted on the information reported by residents and local chief executives,” the army said in a statement.
“The enemy was taken by surprise, but we met fierce resistance as soon as we hit their final defensive lines,” the statement read.
Brawner said the group had been hiding in the Lanao del Sur hinterland where they were familiar with the terrain.
“Despite the enemy’s knowledge of the terrain, accurate supporting fire allowed our troops to gain ground and penetrate their defensive lines,” said Brawner.
Fire support by artillery and helicopters forced the extremists to retreat into their bunkers.
The militant stronghold made use of trenches and fortified bunkers, and a training camp was found close to the terrorists’ defensive lines.
“After massive information dissemination, people are aware of the destruction wrought by these violent extremists,” Brawner said. “People now willingly give out information to government troops to rid their communities of terrorists.”
“With the support we are receiving from the populace, we are liberating communities from the influence of the Maute group,” he added.
Brawner said the militants were no longer capable of mounting large-scale attacks, but could still stage “spoiling attacks” to make their presence felt.
“We expect the terrorist group to attack indiscriminately, targeting Muslim and Christian communities alike,” he said.
Sustained military operations will be a cornerstone in the government’s campaign against militants.
“We will weaken their will to fight — either through lethal or non-lethal means,” Brawner said.


Kabul expects US to share peace deal details

Updated 31 min 28 sec ago

Kabul expects US to share peace deal details

  • Afghan government excluded from all rounds of talks
  • Washington is keen for the deal to be signed before Sept. 1

KABUL: Afghanistan said on Saturday it expects the US to share details of a peace deal with the Taliban before it is signed, having been excluded from all rounds of talks.

US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has led diplomats through at least nine rounds of talks with members of the armed group in Qatar since last summer.

A deal could pave the way for a complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and end almost two decades of fighting in the country.

But President Ashraf Ghani’s government has been left out of the talks because of objections from the Taliban, which views his regime as a puppet of the West.

The current round of discussions has been described as crucial because, according to present and former Taliban officials, both parties are expected to soon sign a deal.

“The Afghan government expects that it (agreement) will be shared before it is finalized for signing,” Ghani’s chief spokesman, Sediq Seddiqi, told Arab News.

He said Kabul could not say when the deal would be signed, and that troops’ departure would be condition-based and not based on a timeline set by the Taliban.

“Well, force reduction will be based on conditions, the terrorist threat is potential and we must fight it together for our common safety and in order to prevent any major terrorist attacks on the world’s capitals. 

“We must deny terrorists from holding free ground in Afghanistan and turning it into a safe haven. The presence of some forces, and continued and meaningful support to the Afghan security and defense forces, will be key to our success.”

The Taliban wants all foreign troops to leave Afghanistan within a set timetable and, in return, the group says it will not allow Afghan soil to be used against any foreign country or US interests.

Afghan and US officials have warned against a total pullout of troops because, they argue, the Taliban will try to regain power by force and the country will slide back into chaos after troops leave.

But some say a continued presence will prolong the conflict, as neighboring powers oppose the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and see it as a trigger for extremism.

The Taliban could not be reached immediately for comment about media reports, which cited the group’s former and current officials as saying that a deal with Washington was imminent.

“We have an agreement on a timeframe for the withdrawal,” Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s spokesman for the Qatar talks, told Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper. “Discussions are now focused on its implementation mechanism. We have had general discussions today,” he added, referring to current discussions in Doha. “Tomorrow, we shall have discussions on the implementation part.”

Another Taliban spokesman said the top US military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, had taken part in the current talks which, according to some observers, showed the importance of the discussions and the possibility of a final deal.

Washington is keen for the deal to be signed before Sept. 1, weeks ahead of a crucial and controversial presidential poll in Afghanistan. 

Ghani, who is standing for re-election, says the polls are his priority. Some politicians believe that peace will have to come first and that the vote will have to be delayed.

Abdul Satar Saadat, who served as an adviser to Ghani, said the Taliban and US were racing against time as any delay would damage trust between the two and prompt the Taliban to fight for another five years.

“Because of this both sides are doing their utmost to sign the deal, delay the polls and begin an intra-Afghan dialogue like Oslo,” he told Arab News.