MANILA - Thirty-seven members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) have been reported killed while 80 others were injured in the continuing intensified military operations in Sulu this year.
Armed Forces of the Philippines Public Affairs Office chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said the number of slain terrorists has breached the number of ASG men killed in 2014.
"This is a significant leap compared to figures for the whole 2014 when 27 bandits were killed and 38 others were wounded," Cabunoc added.
Government forces have also seized five Abu Sayyaf camps and 18 firearms this year. The number of camps and firearms seized in 2015 was at 27 and 17, respectively.
"The increase in (enemy casualty) figures yielded this year can be attributed to the intensified operations that were implemented through the Joint Task Group-Sulu headed by Col. Alan Arrojado," said Cabunoc.
He added that operations this year also resulted in the release of four Filipino kidnap victims. He said the victims were freed by the group due to the "pressure" or operations being conducted by the military.
"Operating troops also prevented the kidnapping of 10 Vietnamese nationals involved in smuggling in Pata Island in Sulu. They were supposed to have been snatched by the bandits after unloading their cargo," Cabunoc added.
An intensified campaign against the ASG was launched in Sulu in October last year, in response to the series of kidnappings of foreign and Filipino nationals.
Five hostages were released by the group last year, including a German couple seized by the group in April last year off Palawan. The couple were released shortly after the military launched the offensive.
Cabunoc also disclosed that the number of soldiers slain by the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu this year is seven and 50 others were injured. In 2014, six soldiers were killed and 29 others were injured.
"The AFP and the PNP will continue our relentless joint law enforcement operations against the ASG in Sulu," said Cabunoc.
The offensive against the Sulu-based Abu Sayyaf is not bound by any deadline.
He said the Joint Task Group-Sulu is closely coordinating with the various stakeholders, including local government units, "addressing the social issues that caused the existence of the Abu Sayyaf Group."