ZAMBOANGA CITY: SPORADIC firings continued as government forces came close to the camp of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Al Barka, Basilan province on Tuesday afternoon, resulting in the death of three soldiers and 13 rebels and the wounding of more than 20 others.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) spokesman Maj. Felimon Tan said a company commander – ranked a captain but whose identity has been withheld from the media pending notification of his family – was among the casualties.
The military has also not confirmed reports that a Malaysian bomb expert was among those killed on the side of the Abu Sayyaf.
The military operation in Basilan involved forces from the army’s 104th Infantry Brigade – 3rd Scout Ranger Battalion, 4th Special Forces Battalion, Marine Special Operations Group, and 12th Light Armor Cavalry.
The restive province of Basilan is where Abu Sayyaf rebels are believed to be coddling Malaysian and Indonesian militants linked to ISIS.
A battalion-size ground force consisting of elite forces from the Army and the Marines are going after the ASG, estimated to number more than 60 and who are believed to be defending the recently installed camp.
Zamboanga police chief Angelito Casimiro said the city is now on red alert following threats of terrorism. He said there are persistent intelligence reports of bombings and kidnappings in the area by terror groups such as the Abu Sayyaf group.
Mayor Beng Climaco said a team of US-trained Light Reaction Company of the Philippine Army has arrived in Zamboanga to help police beef up security.
The latest fighting broke out barely two weeks after the National Intelligence Board warned of potential attacks by terrorists in Zamboanga City and other areas in the southern region, including resorts frequented by tourists in Aklan in western Visayas, and Palawan province that forced police and military authorities to heighten security alert in those places.
In Sulu province, seven soldiers were also injured in a clash with Abu Sayyaf gunmen in Patikul town. The rebels, numbering about 150, attacked an army base in Bonbon village late Tuesday.
It was not immediately known if the MILF was involved in the clashes, but it previously fought side by side with the Abu Sayyaf against security forces in Basilan, a known bastion of local terrorist groups blamed for deadly bombings in the province and nearby Zamboanga City.