Three soldiers were reported missing after a deadly clash with suspected militants during an intensified offensive against Islamic State-linked fighters in the southern Philippines, the military said Friday.
Three government and two suspected enemy fighters were killed in the fighting, which occurred late Thursday afternoon near Tubaran, a town in Lanao del Sur province, military officials said.
The fresh casualties came as military forces stepped up an offensive against militant fighters led by Humam Abdul Najib (also known as Abu Dar), who escaped from southern Marawi city as troops broke a siege there by IS-linked extremists two years ago.
Thursday’s firefight broke out when troops, who were on a combat patrol related to fighting that began early this week, encountered at least 10 enemy fighters, regional military spokesman Col. Gerry Besana said. The firefight lasted more than an hour, he said.
“Three soldiers were also reported missing in action,” Besana said as efforts went on to verify their status in the field.
Troops recovered the bodies of the slain militants as well as their firearms, which included two M-16 rifles, a grenade launcher, a pistol, fragmentation grenades and ammunition, he said.
The death toll in five days of fighting that began Monday on two fronts in the south has now reached 27 on both side – including five soldiers. At least one of slain militant suspects was believed to be a foreigner of Arabic descent, army officials said.