MANILA – Five months since the military freed the town of Butig in Lanao del Sur from terrorist clutches, thousands of villagers are again displaced as fighting between the two forces ensues.
But how did the armed Islamist group manage to reclaim the area?
Butig, believed to be the stronghold and hometown of the Maute group, was cleansed of terrorists in June after the military captured Camp Darul Iman, the final headlock of the terrorists in town.
The camp used to belong to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), but was later occupied by the Maute group after the former abandoned it.
Military spokesman Restituto Padilla explained that after the conclusion of offensives against the Maute group earlier this year, there was “clear coordination” with the local government and police to secure the town of Butig after armed forces left.
He added that some troops stayed in Butig to help the local government but due to “challenges in the area,” the military had to move its troops to other parts of the province, particularly before the May national polls.
Recently, the military launched an offensive against the terrorist group to secure its leaders Omar and Abdullah Maute, who have reporterdy pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
Padilla said the offensive was launched to give justice to the victims of the Davao City night market bombing in September since the leaders are party to the deadly blast.
Three members of the group were arrested last month for supposedly masterminding the bombing.
Padilla said the terrorist group probably discovered the military operations targeted against them and decided to gather all their forces in Butig, which led to the ensuing firefight.
“As we are in our second day of operation, they (Maute group) may have gotten mind of the operations targeted against them and they all amassed in the areas occupied by this group and hold up in the old municipal building.”
The fight between the military and Maute terrorists has entered its third day on Monday after the latter occupied several establishments in Butig and even raised a black ISIS flag.
More than 16,000 locals have since been displaced as military forces push forward with their offensives.
Padilla said given the present situation, a “rethinking of sorts” must be done to avoid similar incidents in the future.
“In this incident right now, there must be a rethinking of sorts that must be done to consider leaving a bigger number of personnel to further help the municipality and the police secure the area,” he said.