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AFP to send more troops to Basilan

MANILA, Philippines - The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is deploying an additional Army battalion to the troubled province of Basilan to beef up operations against the lawless group behind the killing of 19 Special Forces personnel there last month.

Col. Ricardo Visaya, commander of the Army’s 104th Infantry Brigade and head of Joint Task Force Basilan, said the deployment of the additional battalion from the 1st Infantry Division is now being worked out.

Once carried out, there will be three regular Army battalions and a battalion of Scout Rangers and Special Forces which will be running after the group of renegade Moro Islamic Liberation Front commander Dan Laksaw Asnawi, Abu Sayyaf leader Furugi Indama, and kidnapping gang head Long Malat.

Asnawi, Indama and Malat were tagged as the leaders of the Muslim militants who ambushed and killed 19 Special Forces men out to arrest them in Barangay Cambog in Al-Barka, Basilan last Oct. 18.

“We would like to defeat once and for all the threat of the Abu Sayyaf and other lawless elements in the area. That’s the reason why we will have additional forces coming in,” Visaya said.

According to intelligence reports, the “high value targets and their armed followers have already blended in with MILF communities in Barangay Ginanta and nearby villages in Al-Barka town to evade government troops pursuing them.

As agreed upon in the peace talks, government troops can only enter so-called areas of temporary stay of the MILF after coordination has been made with the government and MILF ceasefire panels.

In several instances, government troops have monitored that these lawless groups have been sending heavily armed young combatants outside of these areas apparently to monitor the movements of soldiers.

This, after Army troops recently cornered a young Muslim fighter who was with two adult members of the lawless group outside Al-Barka.

Visaya said they have tapped local officials in Basilan to help them address the security problem in the province.

“Our ground actions here are not only confined to mainly combat operations but also on civil-military operations with the involvement of local government units down to the lowest level,” he said.

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By Jaime Laude The Philippine Star Updated November 23, 2011 12:00 AM

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