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Duterte gov't to go 'full force' vs Abu Sayyaf – Palace

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Duterte administration intends to go "full force" in quashing the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) amid the recent killing of 15 soldiers in Sulu by the terrorist group, Malacañang said on Tuesday, August 30.

About the military's casualties, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella in a press conference said, "It is unfortunate that a number of our troops have already lost their lives."

Abella said the series of offensives against the Abu Sayyaf are "manifestations of his campaign" against the bandit group.

On August 26 and 27, the military claimed it killed at least 14 ASG members in two separate encounters in Sulu. Over a span of two weeks, the AFP's Joint Task Force Sulu captured two and killed 19 members of the ASG. 

"Definitely, the President is focused on making sure that the threat of the Abu Sayyaf Group should be terminated as soon as possible," said Abella.

"He is concentrating full force against [the Abu Sayyaf]," he added.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Monday, August 29, that the government is "intensifying" its operations against the Abu Sayyaf.

It is set to deploy 5 more battalions composed of 2,500 soldiers in Sulu alone, Lorenzana said in a chance interview with reporters.

"We will go into full force and all-out operations against them soon. We are adding 5 battalions – around 2,500 people. That's only for Sulu" he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

He said the existing number of troops in Basilan, another stomping ground of the bandit group, is sufficient for the military's operations there.

Major Filemon Tan, spokesman of the military's Western Mindanao Command, said the extra troops to be deployed in Sulu would join two brigades already involved in the fighting. He declined to give specific numbers, but there are at least 1,000 soldiers in a brigade.

Tan said the military would be able to achieve the goal set by Duterte, but conceded the rough terrain and possible assistance from local Muslim residents were working to the Abu Sayyaf's advantage.

Tan said the military estimated it was fighting about 480 ASG members, but there could be more. He said the army had killed 30 of them.

The Abu Sayyaf recently beheaded a young Sulu native, one of its hostages. The group continues to hold captive Indonesians, Malaysians, and one Norwegian for whom they are demanding ransom. (READ: Duterte vows to 'destroy' Abu Sayyaf after new beheading) – With reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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