Updated at 12 p.m. ET on 2020-05-18
Philippine security forces killed three suspected Islamic State-linked militants in a pair of clashes that also left five soldiers wounded in southern Sulu province during the weekend, the military said Monday.
The firefights took place on Jolo, the main island in the Sulu archipelago, where deadly clashes have flared up in recent weeks between the Philippine military and pro-IS members of the Abu Sayyaf Group.
The first of the two latest clashes erupted on Saturday when troops with the Joint Task Force Sulu launched an assault on Abu Sayyaf positions in Danag, a village in Patikul town, the local military chief told reporters.
“The fighting lasted for an hour, leaving three terrorists killed,” Maj. Gen. Corleto Vinluan said. An undetermined number of militants were also wounded, he said.
The Abu Sayyaf men dragged their dead fighters during their retreat, but subsequently abandoned one of them and left behind an assault rifle, Vinluan said.
Troops who were sent in as a blocking force encountered the same band of militants at a nearby village, sparking another gun battle in which five soldiers were wounded, Vinluan said.
“Bloodstains were seen on the enemy position, indicating heavy casualties inflicted by our troops,” he said.
Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief, vowed to intensify military pressure against Abu Sayyaf.
“As the troops close-in on the enemies, they will employ a reasonable amount of combat power to pressure and debilitate the terror group in Sulu,” Sobejana, a veteran ground commander who has been fighting the Abu Sayyaf since the 1990s, told reporters.
The military has blamed the Abu Sayyaf for some of the country’s deadliest attacks, including bombings, kidnappings and beheadings. A faction of the group is led by Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, chief of pro-Islamic State militants in the Philippines.
The military said Sawadjaan had planned twin suicide bombings that killed 23 people at a church in Jolo in January 2019.
Last month, 11 soldiers were killed while 14 others were wounded – the military’s biggest loss in recent years – in a clash with the Abu Sayyaf in Jolo. Nearly a week later, six Abu Sayyaf militants were killed and eight soldiers were wounded in fighting on the island.