The government military assault on alleged Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) positions in Sulu province entered its fifth day, raising the death toll to 26 with 10 more rebels killed on Friday, belated reports from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said.
The 10 militants were killed in a two-hour clash after the army pounded their jungle lair on Jolo island using artillery and helicopter gunships, said Colonel Alan Arrojado, who is leading the assault.
When the fighting erupted on Tuesday, 14 ASG members and two army troopers were killed.
Battles were raging in the mountainous and thickly forested villages of Patikul town, an area controlled by the ASG, a group of a few hundred gunmen with links to the Al-Qaeda network.
The militants were reportedly moving with three Malaysian Jemaah Islamiyah members who were providing them training on bomb-making, military spokesman Colonel Restituto Padilla said in a separate interview.
“This [assault]will not stop until we put an end to the Abu Sayyaf,” Padilla said, adding the Malaysian JI members have been under surveillance for some time.
The same reports indicated that eight ASG gunmen and 10 soldiers were also wounded in the fighting.
Captain Rowena Muyuela, spokesperson of the military’s Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) said that fighting broke out between troops of the elite Scout Rangers and Special Forces and an estimated 300 ASG fighters in Patikul, Sulu on Friday.
The military official said that at past noon, troops of the 1st Scout Ranger Battalion engaged ASG bandits led by Radulan Sahiron in a fierce gun battle in Sitio Baunoh Butang in Brgy. Buhanginan in Patikul.
While the ASG were retreating from artillery and airborne strikes by government forces, they were then engaged by elements of the 14th Scout Ranger Reconnaissance Company
The Abu Sayyaf in the past have harbored JI militants, including Umar Patek and Dulmatin, key suspects in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings that killed 202 people.
The group is currently holding at least seven hostages, according to the military.
A German couple that they had held captive for six months were freed in October last year with the bandits claiming they were paid P250 million ($5.7 million) in ransom.
Despite receiving training assistance from the United States, the Philippines has struggled to contain the Abu Sayyaf, whose leader last year pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
With a report from AFP