MANILA, Nov 20 (NNN-PNA) -- The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is still verifying reports that foreign fighters or jihadists are helping the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the ongoing campaign in Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

This was stressed by Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla, AFP spokesperson, in an interview Sunday.

"Yes, the 6th Infantry Division mentioned something about that. Positive, they saw something there. But they cannot ascertain yet whom they have seen)," he added.

These individuals are foreign looking, the AFP spokesperson admitted, but said validation is needed to determine whether these foreign fighters are among those reported present in the five-month battle in Marawi City.

"Foreign-looking but we need to validate and ascertain. We are not sure if they were from Marawi but it seems these are from a different place," he added.

Padilla declined to comment on whether the sighted foreign terrorists are Caucasian-looking.

"They may be any nationality that's why there's a need to check further. Operations against BIFF are ongoing. It is spearheaded by the 6th Infantry Division under Maj. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega," he added.

Operations against the terror group started last November 15 and 17 after a large concentration of BIFF men was spotted in Maguindanao and North Cotabato, respectively.

Meanwhile General Padilla, on Sunday assured the public that government troops continue to exhaust all efforts to foil any potential terror plot by extremist groups and their allies in Mindanao.

This came in the wake of President Rodrigo Duterte's announcement that the decision to extend martial law in Mindanao will come from military and police recommendations.

"We are working to meet the deadline by the end of the year to address the threats posed by terror networks in Mindanao," Padilla said in a message to the PNA Sunday.

"We shall make the necessary assessment to determine if we have successfully done that and in the event that we have not, appropriate recommendations will be made to the Commander-in-Chief and the Security Council/Cluster," he added.

The military official said that their ultimate goal for now is to degrade and eliminate the ability of terrorist groups and their networks so they could no longer pose a serious threat to national security.

Martial law in Mindanao was declared on May 23, when fighting in war-torn Marawi City erupted.

Heavy fighting was brought about by efforts to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader and ISIS emir in Southeast Asia, Isnilon Hapilon, and his cohorts.

The five-month battle to liberate Marawi City was only declared over after authorities confirmed the death of Hapilon and Maute Group co-founder, Omar Maute, last Oct. 23.


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