Army troops overrun 4 Abu hill strongholds in Basilan PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 17 August 2016 13:56

By RICHARD FALCATAN

Philippine Army Special Forces commandos, aided by Scout Rangers, other army units, local militia and village volunteers, have overrun four strategic hill strongholds of the Abu Sayyaf in relentless operations that started July, sending the militant group fleeing in Basilan island.

The last of the four strongholds, Hill 355, equipped with 10 bunkers and  four tunnels was captured at high noon Monday by the army’s104th Brigade led by the 4th Special Forces “Dolphin Warriors” Battalion in Barangay Silangkum, Tipo-Tipo, Basilan. The hill is the Abu Sayyaf is last stronghold to fall as the ISIS-affiliated militants scampered and withdrew as results of continuing pounding by artillery fire and troops advancing. Two Improvised Explosives Devices (IEDs) were seized on Hill 355, formerly known as unmarked hill), a military report said..

On Sunday, Special Forces soldiers from the 4th Special Forces Battalion, 2nd Special Forces Battalion and SF Combat Qualification Course (SFCQC) students were able to simultaneously seize and control Barangay Baguindan Proper, Tipo-tipo and Hill 440 (Kawilan Hill), another strategic Abu Sayyaf stronghold, the army said..

“The decisive terrain serves to secure the enemy’s vital mobility and supply corridor and also stands as a monument to intimidate nearby communities. The combined arms assault from the Special Forces, Scout Rangers, elite counter terrorism units and Light Armor Cavalry Troops with support from massive artillery fires forced the enemy to abandon their stronghold of seven foxholes and twelve (12) bunkers capable of accommodating at least eighty ASG kidnap-for-ransom terrorists. Troops also recovered three unexploded ordnances and several IEDs intended to inflict heavy casualties on the assaulting troops,” the report said.

“Unexploded Ordnances are of high value to the Abus Sayaffs. For them to abandon such prized possessions would indicate a dramatic drop in their will to fight,”  a demolition specialist from the SF noted.

In a statement,  Lt. Col.  Andrew B Bacala Jr, Commanding Officer of the 4th Special Forces Battalion, described the operation as a “liberation” for the populace of Baguindan, Tipo-Tipo and Bohe Piang of Al-Barka.

Bacala said since last month, Special Forces coammandos have infiltrated strategic communities in the operational area, extending into three municipalities.

He said utilizing the elite 12-man team to conduct mass base operations and harness popular support, the soldiers effectively earned the trust of the local populace to support military operations. With the Barangay Peace Action Teams (BPATs) and members of the Civilian Volunteer Organization (CVO) from the municipalities of Albarka, Akbar, Tuburan, Maluso, Lantawan and Hadji Mutamad (Pilas) totaling 150 personnel pledging their allegiance to the Special Forces.

“The 12-man team was effectively turned into a formidable force. Leading the local militias to secure vital supply lines and deny the enemy use of communities as safe havens, the Airborne troopers waged an unseen warfare that delisted the enemy of the mass base support system they once enjoy. Utilizing the local’s complete mastery of the terrain and familiarity of the enemy’s tactics, the BPATs/CVOs led by the Special Forces were able to seize and secure hill 497 – a gateway to the ASG’s defensive complex stretching from the municipalities of Albarka, Tipo-Tipo and Ungkaya Pukan – just within days of the offensive. This was the first outpost captured from the enemy since the start of the relentless operation. Next to fall was the Hill 332 at Brgy Bohe Piang, Albarka which gave the operating troops a window to the infamous Baguindan complex of hilltops where the enemy outposts and defensive positions are strategically constructed. Several face-to-face dialogues likewise were conducted to dissuade the local populace from providing support to the ASGs. Within a week after the unit was deployed, reports on the ASG’s diminishing supplies surfaced as communities refute the enemy of resources and rally their support for the government troops,” Bacala said.

He said as unconventional warfare operators, SF troopers were able to forge alliances with the civilian populace and the local MNLFs.

“Working with the MNLFs’ excellent knowledge and mastery of the operational area, the troopers were able to efficiently and effectively clear four objectives, two of which are major enemy strongholds. In return for their alliance, the 4th Special Forces Battalion facilitated the enrollment of 263 MNLF dependents under the unit’s “Education4Life” project. Under the program, qualified MNLF dependents are given full scholarship in accordance with the partnership that was formalized in a MOA signing between the 4TH Special Forces Battalion, Furigay Colleges Incorporated (FCI) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED). Such focused Civil-Military Operation (CMO) projects enables the unit to harness the LGUs, civilians and the MNLFs for the conduct of an Integrated Territorial Defense System (ITDS), bringing a popular uprising against the Abu Sayyafs,” Bacala explained.

“The real mission of Unconventional Warfare is all about building personal trust and relationship that is critical to operational success which could only be achieved through face-to-face dialogues. Once you have that trust, it is easier for you to see the enemy, for you have entered the human world where the terrorists lives and operates” as Hy S. Rothstein would have it in his book. Such is just a glimpse of the Elite Special Forces’ ability to wage an unseen war within the hearts and the minds of the populace. Living up as silent professionals, the 4TH Special Forces Battalion is in the forefront on the “war on terror” in Basilan Province - silently doing their share of such critical task - without fanfare nor trumpet’s blare,” he added.