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11 Philippine soldiers killed in clashes with Abu Sayyaf

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COTABATO CITY (The Philippine Star ) — The Bangsamoro regional police and the military’s Western Mindanao Command or Westmincom have launched operations to identify and arrest the Abu Sayyaf Group bandits that encountered and killed 11 Army soldiers and wounded 14 others in Patikul, Sulu on Friday.

Westmincom commander Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said the 11 slain troopers were members of the Delta Company of the Army’s 21st Infantry Battalion that is part of the units trying to clear Sulu of Abu Sayyaf terrorists. Officials said 14 other soldiers were wounded.

Sobejana said combined forces belonging to Joint Task Force Sulu have been mobilized to track down the bandits.

“The hot pursuit is ongoing on the ground,” said Sobejana.

The slain soldiers clashed with the bandits on Friday afternoon in Danag, Patikul. Some of the slain soldiers were reportedly beheaded by the bandits.

There were reports that five bandits were also killed in the encounter.

Gen. Manuel Manalo Abu, director of the Police Regional Office-Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, said the Sulu provincial police will enlist the help of local officials to identify and arrest the bandits.

Manalo said the Sulu police had deployed intelligence agents to help Westmincom troops secure public areas to prevent possible retaliatory attacks from the Abu Sayyaf in Patikul.

Armed Forces of the Philippines or AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said military air assets have been dispatched to Sulu to provide close air support to ongoing pursuit operations spearheaded by the Army’s elite Scout Ranger and Special Forces elements against the group of Abu Sayyaf commanders Radullan Sahiron and Hatib Hadjan Sawadjaan.

In a radio interview, Arevalo said that while the AFP is mourning, the incident will not deter the military from its resolve in ending the terror menace in Sulu and other parts of the southern island of Mindanao.

The military tagged the combined group of Sawadjaan and Sahiron as responsible for the slaying of 11 soldiers and the wounding of 14 others after the bandits ambushed the soldiers at Bud Lubong, Barangay Danag, Patikul at around 3 p.m.

Field reports showed soldiers from the Delta Company of the 21st Infantry Battalion were conducting combat operations in the area when the troops were hit by a powerful explosion from an improvised explosive device.

The blast was followed by heavy exchange of gunfire that lasted for almost an hour as the soldiers, despite most of them being wounded, held their ground and fought it out with at least 40 bandits who repeatedly tried but failed to overwhelm them.

Reinforcements forced the bandits to withdraw but suspects seized six R4 rifles, one K3 Squad Automatic Weapon, an R4 with an 40mm grenade launcher and a handheld radio from the soldiers they shot and hacked to death.

Philippine flags in all key military camps across the country are now flying at half mast in honor of the 11 fallen soldiers.

“The Army is saddened with the events in Sulu. We offer our sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of our 11 Sulu heroes who gallantly fought to the last breath against the Abu Sayyaf terrorists,” Philippine Army chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay said.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said the government will use all its powers to ensure that peace and security are maintained in Sulu after bandits killed 11 soldiers in Patikul.

“The enemies of the state choose no date and occasion. They strike even during this time of great pandemic,” Roque said yesterday.

“But let this serve as a warning to all: Our authorities remain ready and prepared to crush the enemies of the government and quell any armed attack amid the existing state of calamity and public health emergency.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the latest incident in Patikul, Sulu, where members of the Abu Sayyaf Group believed to be under ASG leader Radullan Sahiron and Hatib Hadjan Sawadjaan attacked government troops resulting in a firefight, which left 11 soldiers killed and 14 wounded,” Roque said.

He lamented that Friday’s clash is the second encounter with the same terrorist group. The first was on April 16 that left three soldiers wounded.

“The Office of the President expresses its sincerest condolences to the bereaved families left behind by our brave soldiers who fought hard and paid the ultimate sacrifice to secure our community. We honor and pray for the fallen,” Roque added.

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