MANILA, Philippines (Updated) – Three soldiers were killed and 17 others wounded in a clash with the Abu Sayyaf Group in Patikul, Sulu, Saturday morning, December 10, according to sources in the security sector.
The 35th Infantry Battalion led by Lieutenant Colonel Vlademir Villanueva was conducting focused military operations in the area of Bud Taming in Barangay Kabbon Takkas when they encountered a group of over a hundred members of the Abu Sayyaf at around 10 am on Saturday.
Western Mindanao Command spokesperson Major Filemon Tan confirmed the clash on Sunday, December 11.
The group that clashed with the 35th IB is believed to be led by Abu Sayyaf senior leader Radullan Sahiron and sub-leaders Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, Yasser Igasan, and Mujer Yadah.
They exchanged gunfire for nearly two hours before the Abu Sayyaf withdrew with an undetermined number of casualties, according to the sources.
Rappler is withholding the names of troops killed in the encounter pending notice to their families.
Two Huey choppers immediately airlifted government casualties where they could be given medical attention.
The firefight with Sahiron's group means the military had gotten close to the Abu Sayyaf leaders, subjects of the troops' months-long manhunt.
The military intensifed operations against the Abu Sayyaf as President Rodrigo Duterte expressed fears about the influence of the Islamic State (ISIS) among extremists in the region, particularly about plans to establish a caliphate in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines.
The Abu Sayyaf is one of the country's homegrown terrorist groups that pledged allegiance to ISIS. (READ: 4 PH terror groups link up with pro-ISIS figthers in region)
The peace process with the communist National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF) allowed the military to move troops to Sulu to address the Abu Sayyaf threat.
Attacks in other parts of Mindanao, including the bombing of the night market in Davao City and the Maute Group's occupation of the Butig Municipal Hall, are believed to be tactics to divert military attention from the Abu Sayyaf.
The Maute Group, which previously raised the ISIS black flag in Butig, is also inspired by the foreign terrorist group.
Malaysia has been helping the Philippines in the fight against theAbu Sayyaf, too. On Thursday, December 8, 3 Abu Sayyaf leaders were killed in Sabah when they tried to kidnap fishermen who turned out to be undercover Malaysian maritime cops. – Rappler.com