Updated at 8:20 a.m. ET on 2020-04-18
At least 11 Philippine soldiers were killed and 14 others were wounded Friday during an hour-long gun battle with Abu Sayyaf Group militants linked to the Islamic State on the southern Philippine island of Jolo, military officials said.
The soldiers came upon 40 armed ASG fighters led by overall leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, triggering the gun battle, the military said.
“With the determination to ensure the safety and security of the community against the ASG, 11 soldiers paid the ultimate sacrifice in an hour-long ferocious gun fight with the terrorist group in Sulu,” said Maj. Arvin John Encinas, spokesman for the military’s southern command.
Officials said the wounded soldiers were extracted immediately and treated, but the officials did not have information on possible militant injuries or deaths.
“Combat troops inflicted enemy casualties based on the blood stains found in the encounter site,” Encinas said, adding that the military would pursue the militants despite its loss of troops.
Friday’s encounter was the deadliest in months, officials said. Philippine forces have been tracking Sawadjaan’s group since last year, and killed three militants earlier this month in a Jolo jungle.
Sawadjaan assumed the leadership of the Philippine branch of Islamic State (IS) after Isnilon Hapilon was killed as fighting in the southern city of Marawi came to an end in 2017. Hapilon’s men had seized the city to convert it into an Islamic caliphate in the region. A five-month battle with government forces ensued and destroyed Marawi, leaving about 1,200 soldiers, militants and civilians dead.
After taking the regional IS reins, Sawadjaan led attacks including last year’s twin bombings by an Indonesian couple that left 23 people dead at a Jolo church.
Overall military spokesman Brig. Gen. Edgardo Arevalo said pursuit operations would continue despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While the entire nation is grappling with COVID-19 pandemic, our troops are in the forefront as the government’s arm to prevent the spread of the dreaded disease on the one hand while in the other, they are batting this terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group,” he said.
“The operations are ongoing,” he said, citing a report from the army commander in Jolo.
This report was updated to add the photograph of Philippine troops carrying their fallen comrades.