Government forces fought hundreds of Islamic militants on two remote islands Thursday, with the military aircraft-backed campaign leaving up to 10 people dead, the army said.
The gun battles on the southern islands of Jolo and Basilan followed orders by new President Rodrigo Duterte for the security services to go after the Abu Sayyaf Group, which recently beheaded two foreign hostages and is also blamed for the worst terror attacks in Philippine history.
The fighting was continuing late Thursday with more troops being rushed in, backed by military aircraft and artillery, regional military spokesman Major Filemon Tan told reporters.
“Continuous indirect fire support and air strikes are being done and additional troops were deployed,” he added without giving details.
Army troops hunting down Abu Sayyaf units clashed with about 130 of the gunmen near the Jolo town of Patikul, killing a soldier and wounding six others, Tan said.
Military intelligence reports later determined that nine Abu Sayyaf members were also killed and 13 others wounded, he added.
Meanwhile, up to 200 Abu Sayyaf gunmen have been fighting running gun battles with government forces in three Basilan towns since late Wednesday, Tan said, but did not say if there were casualties.
The Jolo militants are believed to be holding a Norwegian resort manager abducted elsewhere in the south in September last year and a Dutch birdwatcher kidnapped in 2012.
The Abu Sayyaf beheaded in April and June two Canadian tourists who were kidnapped along with the Norwegian, while a Filipina who was abducted with them was freed last month.