At least 15 people were killed in heavy fighting between the Armed Forces and al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group in Sulu over the weekend, the military said.
Close to 100 ground troops with helicopter support engaged some 300 Abu Sayyaf insurgents in Talipao town on Sulu, said Colonel Allan Arrojado, the Army commander in Sulu.
Six soldiers and nine Abu Sayyaf fighters were killed, said Captain Rowena Muyuela, a military spokeswoman in the region. The military had 26 wounded while the ASG had three.
“This is a major encounter. We are tracking the Abu Sayyaf’s whereabouts and pursuing them,” Arrojado said, without providing further details.
On Friday, Scout Rangers led by 1st LT. Michael Asistores backed by attack helicopters engaged the ASG in a five-hour gunfight. The bandits were led by sub-commanders Radullah Sahiron, Hatib Sawadjaan, Juilie Ekit, and Hairula Asbang.
One of the dead bandits was identified as Beting Jakka, brother in law of Sahiron. The military said Jakka’s death was confirmed by his wife Suraya. Another casualty was named as Allih, whom the military said was a student of the Mindanao State University.
On Nov. 3 in Basilan, local officials led by ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman declared an all-out war on the Abu Sayyaf after the bandits ambushed government troops, killing six soldiers.
Hataman’s declaration was suppored by the mayors of Basilan who wanted to end the violence caused by ASG atrocities.
Malacanang condoled with the families of the six soldiers who died in the Sulu skirmish.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte lauded the soldiers for making the “ultimate sacrifice” and for showing courage and valor. Valte also reassured the families the government will not abandon them.
AFP chief of staff Pio Catapang Jr. also condoled with the families of the fallen soldiers who died “fighting for the country.”
Catapang said he wanted to recognize the bravery of the soldiers and “personally pin the “Gold Cross “ medals on the deserving warriors ” who displayed conspicuous courage in this particular firefight.
Their bravery must be emulated by all soldiers.”
Set up in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network, the Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for the worst terror attacks in the Philippines’ history including bombings and mass kidnappings of Christians and foreigners.
The military has intensified pursuit operations against the group after it ransomed off two German hostages in October.
The group claimed it received $5.7 million for the pair. Catapang vowed to investigate.
Labelled as terrorists by the United States and Philippine governments, the Abu Sayyaf recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in a series of videos posted on YouTube.
The Abu Sayyaf is believed to be holding at least 13 other hostages, including five foreigners, according the Philippine military.
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