The number of Abu Sayyaf militants killed in a series of clashes in Sulu for the past two weeks has risen to 30, a top military official said Tuesday.
Colonel Cirilito Sobejana Jr., commanding officer of Joint Task Force Sulu, said seven more bandits were killed in Talipao town, raising the previous death toll of 23 to 30.
Sobejana said at least 22 other bandits were also wounded in 4 separate skirmishes since February 21. Among those injured was Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Idang Susukan.
He said Susukan's brother, identified as Jaber Susukan, was also killed in the firefight.
Sobejana believes with the rate of success in the military’s operations offensive against the Abu Sayyaf, its six-month self-imposed deadline to annihilate the Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group is now within reach.
He added the military is now closing in on known strongholds of the group.
"We have occupied most of their strongholds. Kaya sa ngayon, they are now away from their comfort zones," Sobejana said.
He said the Sinumaan complex, which is one of the identified strongholds of the bandits, has been partially occupied by government forces.
Two hostages were also sighted during the series of offensives in Indanan and Patikul towns.
Sobejana said the safety of the hostages remains the military’s top priority amid the intensified operation.
On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Año visited the wounded soldiers in Sulu.
They awarded gold cross, silver cross and military merit medals to soldiers who took part in the series of military offensives against the Abu Sayyaf.
Lorenzana and Año also met with local officials in Sulu to discuss further on how to strengthen their support to the military.