Westmincom: 40 Abu Sayyaf killed in Basilan, Sulu ops
Roel Pareño (philstar.com) - July 12, 2016 - 4:00pm
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Updated 1:13 p.m., July 13, 2016) -- At least 40 Abu Sayyaf militants have been killed and 25 others wounded in close to two weeks of military offensives in Basilan and Sulu, a military official confirmed Tuesday.
 
An Army ranger was also killed and five others were injured in explosion in Tipo-Tipo in Basilan Tuesday morning as operations continued against the Abu Sayyaf group's defensive position in the hills of Ungkaya Pukan town.
 
Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said Tuesday that a firefight was ongoing in one of the hills, which the Abu Sayyaf group has occupied and fortified as a staging point.
 
He said the Army rangers were closing in to assault Hill 490 after air and artillery strikes to soften the Abu Sayyaf's defenses when one of the rangers tripped an improvised explosive device (IED) at around 6 a.m.
The government casualties were immediately airlifted to Camp Navarro General Hospital (CNGH) in this city for treatment.
 
The military has been battling about 200 Abu Sayyaf members led by Isnilon Hapilon -- said to be the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria's amir in the southern Philippines -- and Furiji Indama, another Basilan-based leader.
 
Tan said the Abu Sayyaf group has occupied Hill 490 as a staging point for attacks on the detachments and headquarters of the 18th Infantry Battalion.
 
“They occupied that hill because it is on high ground and [they] fortified their position... that made it difficult for the troops to operate,” Tan said.
 
He said the Abu Sayyaf militants has dug in and fortified their positions.
 
“That makes it difficult for the troops to assault because they have position. It is hard to take up position in a terrain where the enemies have the advantage and are on the defensive,” Tan said.
 

Military 'very careful'

 
Tan said that the offensive has been going slow because troops have been cautious to minimize casualties.
 
“We are very careful on our advances,” he said.
 
He added the troops have been supported by armor, artillery and air strikes. “That’s is why they (Abu Sayyaf) incurred heavy casualties.”
 
The military official believes that high-value targets, including Hapilon or Indama, are holed up on Hill 490.
 
Tan meanwhile denied that the Abu Sayyaf has been initiating attacks. He said sporadic fire from the Abu Sayyaf's position could be a diversionary tactic. He added ground forces will prolong the offensive a little in preparation for a decisive engagement.
 
The military said they have contained the Abu Sayyaf Group in the operation areas to prevent fighting from spreading to civilian communities.
 
“We will not allow it to escalate into something that we cannot control. We have contained and boxed the enemies and [have isolated] them,” Tan said.
 
He said at least 22 militants have been verified killed and 16 wounded in Sulu since July 6 while at least 18 militants have been killed and nine have been wounded in Basilan operations. He said there may have been more killed in artillery and air strikes.
 

Eight barangays affected by operations

 
Meanwhile, Basilan Governor Hajiman Hataman-Saliman has declared a state of calamity in Tipo-Tipo, Ungkaya Pukan and Al-Barka towns and led the distribution of relief assistance to 1,312 affected families or about 7,078 dependents.
 
Hataman said their provincial social welfare office reported at least eight barangays in the three towns have been affected by the fighting.
 
Editor's note: The explosion that killed an Army ranger and injured five others was initially reported to have happened in Ungkaya Pukan. The story has been corrected.

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