ZAMBOANGA CITY–Thirty-two soldiers were wounded as the military operation against a sub-leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) entered its second day on Monday in Sulu province, officials said.
Elements of the Joint Task Force Sulu (JTFS) launched an assault against the group of ASG sub-leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan in Talipao town on Sunday.
“Firefight is still ongoing,” Col. Cirilito Sobejana, JTFS commander told the Philippines News Agency on Monday, noting that the wounded soldiers were given medical treatment.
Sobejana could not determine the exact number of casualties on the side of the ASG, saying “reports are still trickling in.”
“We will provide the data later,” Sobejana added.
The group of Sawadjaan has been tagged for the strings of abductions in nearby Malaysia in recent years.
The elusive Abu Sayyaf sub-leader had been the target of the military’s manhunt operations against high value individuals in Sulu after Sawadjaan emerged as the new sub-leader of the bandit group.
Sawadjaan leads at least 150 bandits based on military estimate.
The Abu Sayyaf bandits are still holding captives 28 people, mostly foreigners, and it was not immediately clear if the group of Sawadjaan is holding any of the victims.
The JTFS has beefed up its operations against the ASG, which splintered into several groups, following President Rodrigo Durterte’s order to finish the bandits in six months. The deadline will lapse on June 30.
“Our troops on the ground continue to intensify the conduct of focused military operations in Sulu and adhere to the rules of engagement to contain lawless groups and preempt the conduct of atrocities in the province,” said Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief.
“We will continue to support the PNP’s (Philippine National Police) efforts against criminality and lawlessness. The entire Westmincom will be ready to move and react when needed,” Galvez added.