GOVERNMENT forces pounded on the extremist Abu Sayyaf Group and killed 13 jihadists, as combined elements of the army, navy, air force and the Philippine National Police (PNP) intensify their pursuit of the ASG, which earlier killed 18 soldiers in a clash in Basilan.
Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AF), said reports from the AFP-Western Mindanao (Westmincom) show the jihadists died Sunday during clashes in Basilan’s Tipo-Tipo town.
He added that the 13 were believed to be part of the more than 120 jihadists encountered by security forces on Saturday that resulted in the death of 18 soldiers and the wounding of several other troops.
During Saturday’s firefight, five ASG members, including a Moroccan bombmaker identified as Mohammad Khattab, also died.
Padilla said there was a large number of casualties on government side because, based on the reports of soldiers on the ground, the first volume of terrorists was “intense.”
“So the initial burst was the reason why we have a huge number of casualties,” he stressed in Filipino during a news conference Monday afternoon. “But many of them, although wounded, fought to hold the line.”
He also said that an aerial bombardment on the position of the ASG was not carried out due to bad weather, prompting the military to use artillery instead. And the air support was only able to fly later on Saturday afternoon, when the sky became clear.
Padillia also disclosed that the ASG even attempted to behead those who were already dead. “They started to slit the throats, but supporting fires prompted them to retreat,” he said.
As security forces continue the intense pursuit operations, all flags in military camps nationwide are flown at half-mast to mourn the death of the 18 fallen soldiers and recognize their heroism.
Asked on the possible lapses of military commanders on the ground, Padilla said the AFP leadership had given their full confidence in them.
“There have been many months of continuous operations involving the same troops, involving the same commander, and they have delivered and given results,” he explained. “This is only one opportunity when we had this bad luck of sorts. So, our orders to the commanders, based from our senior commanders, are to continue the relentless operations. At this time, this is not the time to blame, this is a time to focus because the enemy is just right there and we need to find them.” FERNAN MARASIGAN