(AA) – Philippine troops clashed with around 300 al-Qaeda-linked militants Thursday, leaving at least two soldiers and six Abu Sayyaf members dead in the Muslim south, according to the military.
Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, army public affairs chief, told reporters at Camp Aguinaldo that 15 government troops, including two captains, and 10 militants had been injured in the fighting on the outskirts of Talipao town, Sulu province.
He said a unit of Task Force Sulu had been conducting law enforcement operations when they encountered the Abu Sayyaf members at around 10.30 a.m. (0530GMT), the state-run Philippines News Agency reported. The soldiers were supported by attack helicopters and artillery strikes.
“As of posting time, pursuit operation against the bandits is ongoing and the Philippine Air Force gave air cover for the engaging troops,” Cabunoc said.
The slain and wounded soldiers were airlifted to a military hospital at Camp Teodolfo Bautista in the provincial capital of Jolo.
Capt. Rowena Muyuela, Western Mindanao Command spokesperson, released a statement saying that the clash “lasted for two hours, wherein our troops suffered two killed in action and fifteen wounded in action.”
The Abu Sayyaf members were under the command of Nil Hairula, Radullan Sahiron and Hatip Sawadjaan – two of whose nephews were reportedly captured earlier this week.
Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf — armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles — has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortion in a self-determined fight for an independent Islamic province in the Philippines.
It is notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to be paid for their release.