KORONADAL CITY, Philippines - Elite members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) may have killed 250 elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and private armed groups during the recent deadly encounter in Maguindanao province, a police general said in Manila on Monday.
Speaking before a Philippines Senate enquiry televised nationwide, Chief Superintendent Getulio Napenas said the figure was based on the estimates or testimonies of the elite troopers involved in the operation.
Napenas is the director of the PNP-SAF who was relieved from his post following the carnage in the town of Mamasapano last January 25 that claimed the lives of 44 police commandos.
The police operation was conducted to arrest Malaysian terror suspect Zulkifli Bin Hir alias Marwan, allegedly a senior leader of al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah, and his Filipino cohort Abdul Basit Usman.
Marwan was killed in the encounter, which was confirmed by the DNA test conducted by the United States government, while Usman had escaped.
The US government has offered a bounty of US$5 million (S$6.77 million) for the arrest of Marwan and US$1 million for Usman.
In the pursuit of the operation, the elite police commandos clashed with the MILF, the BIFF and private armed groups.
"The MILF, BIFF and private armed groups suffered no less than 250 casualties because of our SAF (Special Action Force)," Napenas told the Senate hearing.
The BIFF is a breakaway group of the MILF, which signed a peace deal with the Government of the Philippines last year.
MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, in a recent meeting in Kuala Lumpur with the government peace panel, said his group only suffered 18 fatalities.
Napenas hailed the fallen police commandos, stressing they have accomplished their mission of neutralising Marwan.
The police fatalities could have been avoided if military assistance were deployed immediately, Napenas said.
"Had the artillery support we requested arrived on time, the situation would have been entirely different," he said.
Napenas noted that the SAF troopers who joined the operation were highly-prepared for the mission.
The Mamasapano encounter had cast a dark cloud over the peace process between the government and the MILF, with some sectors calling for an all-out war against the latter to exact revenge for the fallen police commandos.
The peace panels of the government and the MILF, however, agreed to continue with their peace overtures in Mindanao despite the incident.
Iqbal was invited to the hearing but did not attend, pending a clearance from the Front's central committee.