Military forces on Friday waged simultaneous air and ground campaign against a large concentration of Islamic State-affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group in the hinterlands of Sulu.
At break of dawn Friday, fighting still raged as helicopter gun ships and attack planes conducted air strikes and artilleries against some 200 ASG members in Brgy. Kabbun Takas, Patikul, the military said.
Col. Gerry Besana, spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command, said the 200 ASG bandits were under their leaders Radulan Sahiron and Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan who were spotted converging in Sitios Agas-Agas and Limasan in Brgy. Kabbun Takas.
There had been no specific numbers of casualties on both sides while fighting was reported continuing in the outskirts of Patikul, Sulu, the supposed haven of the terrorists.
The offensive against the terrorists was part of the directive of President Rodrigo Duterte to pursue the culprits of the Jolo Cathedral twin bombings which left 23 individuals including five soldiers dead and wounded 123 others last Jan. 27.
Military ground commanders believed the consolidation of 200 ASG bandits was part of their plan to launch terror attacks.
“This military offensive is launched before they could carry out whatever terroristic action they are planning which I believe something big as they have consolidated such number of terrorists,” JTF Sulu Commander, Brig. Gen. Divino Rey Pabayo Jr. said.
“We have stepped-up our tactical offensives against the ASG following the monitored and validated consolidation of the ASG terrorists in the hinterland of Patikul,” Pabayo added.
Anticipating diversionary attacks by the ASG, tight security was enforced in Metro Jolo.
However, Pabayo said JTF Sulu “will never loose focus in hunting down this terrorist that had been wrecking havoc in this part of the country. Hence, it would be better for them to surrender that he hunted as fleeing criminals of the society.”
Selective aerial bombardment was going on Friday as ground forces were maneuvering their final assault on ASG positions.
“As we build up the offensives against the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu, the safety of our troops is at risk. In this regard, we ask everyone to please offer prayers for our valiant soldiers that they will be spared and be able to return home victoriously,” said Lt. Gen. Arnel dela Vega, commander of the Western Mindanao Command.