According to the New York Times newspaper, Fifteen Philippine soldiers have been killed this week and 12 others wounded in mounting clashes with the militant group Abu Sayyaf, the military said on Tuesday, as the government announced plans to deploy thousands more soldiers to the group’s stronghold in the south.
It said a “series of clashes” had begun on Monday, as the troops scoured jungle terrain on the southern island of Jolo in search of rebel fighters and at least 23 hostages, including a Dutch bird-watcher kidnapped in 2012 and a Norwegian abducted last year from a beach resort he helped manage.
A spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday that the deaths had only strengthened the government’s resolve to crush Abu Sayyaf, which was founded in the early 1990s to fight for an independent ISIL in the southern Philippines but which in more recent years has degenerated into a kidnap-for-ransom gang to behead captives.
“The president is focused that the threat of the Abu Sayyaf is terminated as soon as possible,” said the spokesman, Ernesto Abella, adding that Mr. Duterte was closely monitoring developments. He said the president had approved the deployment of about 2,500 more soldiers, or five battalions, to Jolo to augment the forces there.
A report by the military’s Joint Task Force Sulu said heavy fighting broke out early Monday afternoon when army troops chanced upon 30 heavily armed Abu Sayyaf fighters on the outskirts of the remote town of Patikul on Jolo, which is part of Sulu Province. A half-hour gun battle left two gunmen dead, the report said.