Troops close in on Sayyaf
Roel Pareño (The Philippine Star) - April 12, 2016 - 10:00am

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Government troops are closing in on more than 60 Abu Sayyaf gunmen in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan following last weekend’s bloody clashes that left 18 soldiers dead and 56 wounded.

Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., the designated ground spokesman for the ongoing military offensive in Basilan, said troops from the Army’s Special Forces, Rangers and the Light Reaction Company (LRC) were poised to strike against the remaining Abu Sayyaf holed up in the jungles of Tipo-Tipo.

“Our forces were positioned in tactical area to limit the maneuvering space of the Abu Sayyaf,” Tan said.

He said the military has also placed additional troops on standby and ready to be deployed when needed.

Tan said the troops are running after the remaining 60 Abu Sayyaf led by Isnilon Hapilon and Furuji Indama.

“There is a very large operation going on to get the remnants of this Abu Sayyaf group,” Tan said.

According to Tan, Indama was wounded and was in critical condition following the encounter with government troops.

There were reports that Indama later died from his wounds. Tan, however, said they cannot confirm the information at the moment.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, however, clarified Indama is still alive but in critical condition along with several of his men.

Padilla added 11 more bandits were killed and 20 others wounded as the military continued artillery attacks to soften the known positions of the Abu Sayyaf in the area.

“There’s no significant engagement on the ground yesterday but ground troops are still in the area, continuously delivering suppressive artillery fire,” Padilla said.

He said Indama was hit during last Sunday’s fighting with government troops while trying to retrieve the body of Moroccan terrorist Mohammad Khattab.

There were reports the bandits are now running out of medical supplies to treat their wounded, as soldiers are also closely watching over procurement of trauma medicine in all pharmacies in the province.

As of yesterday, the running total of Abu Sayyaf bandits killed in the last two days of fighting is now at 24. Five were killed on the spot, while four others were critically wounded and subsequently died.

In addition, soldiers also killed four of the bandits in last Sunday’s fighting and 11 more who were critically wounded in the two days of military ground assaults have also died.

“These are the reports coming in from the field, from local government units and from our intelligence operatives on the ground. We have also other ways, which I could not disclose, in getting our reports on the ground,” Padilla said.

The military said the Abu Sayyaf initially suffered 13 killed and 26 others wounded while the government casualty remained at 18 killed and 56 wounded since the encounter Saturday at Barangay Baguindan in Tipo-Tipo.

Malacañang, on the other hand, said it would be “inappropriate” at this point to conduct any investigation on the deaths of 18 soldiers in the Basilan clashes with the Abu Sayyaf.

“It is inappropriate, in the meantime, to probe the encounter on Saturday, as there are still continuing and ongoing operations. The focus is on neutralizing and disabling these lawless elements,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said yesterday.

Coloma said the government “understands the grief and pain of the widows and bereaved families of our brave soldiers who fought courageously and died in the line of duty.”

Tan, spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), added the President will visit the wake of the fallen troopers in Zamboanga City to extend the government’s sympathy to the bereaved families.

Tan said Aquino is expected to arrive before lunch at Westmincom and will visit the wounded soldiers confined at the Camp Navarro General Hospital.

Army spokesman Col. Benjamin Hao said financial assistance would be handed over to the families of the 18 slain troopers. 

The Army is also giving full military honors to the fallen, Hao said.

“Appropriate military honors is the least the Army can do for the men who fought gallantly for the country,” Hao said.

Aquino directed the AFP over the weekend to go after the Abu Sayyaf who killed the 18 soldiers.

Coloma said these were the instructions the commander-in-chief gave AFP chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin during their meeting at Malacañang late Sunday.

“Both officials informed the President that, in accordance with his instructions, pursuit operations are still being conducted and that the troops are fully equipped and adequately supported,” Coloma said.

Padilla added the military operation was coordinated the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), whose camp is located near the scene of fighting.

Barangays Banguindan and Silangkum are also known enclaves of the MILF.

“There’s no MILF fighters who were involved in the fighting. We have coordinated our operations with them and they have withdrawn from these areas,” Padilla said.

Iriberri and Gazmin briefed Aquino about the progress of continuing AFP operations against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan after their return from Zamboanga City.

“These operations were intensified since December 2015 and have resulted in neutralizing high-value terror suspects, including Malaysian Mohd Najib Hussein (aka Abu Anas), Moroccan Mohammad Khattab and Ubaida Hapilon, son of senior Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon,” Coloma pointed out. – Jaime Laude, Delon Porcalla

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