MANILA – Malacañang on Tuesday revealed that five more battalions, equivalent to about 2,500 soldiers, will be deployed to Sulu to fight the Abu Sayyaf Group.
Clashes between government troops and the bandits since Thursday have claimed the lives of at least 15 soldiers and more than 20 Abu Sayyaf bandits, after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the military to destroy the bandit group which recently beheaded its teenage captive.
''It is unfortunate that a number of troops lost their lives. However, as Defense secretary [Delfin] Lorenzana said, we are going full force and have an all-out operation. We are adding 5 battalions. That will be only in Sulu,'' Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said.
The Armed Forces reported skirmishes between government forces and the bandits on Monday. In one of the clashes which occurred in the afternoon, Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Jamiri Jawong Jauhari was wounded.
The Abu Sayyaf, known for kidnapping and beheading captives, has dogged successive Philippine governments, entrenching its network with vast sums of ransom money in what has become one of Asia's most lucrative kidnapping rackets.
Security experts say the rebels are motivated less by Islamist ideology and more by the tens of millions of dollars from kidnappings.
Two Canadians and a Filipino teenager were executed this year by the Abu Sayyaf. Last week, two Indonesians escaped captivity but there was speculation the Abu Sayyaf freed them after their families paid their ransoms.
Eight Indonesians, eight Filipinos, five Malaysians, a Dutch bird watcher and a Norwegian resort manager are still being held by the Abu Sayyaf, It was not known the hostages were in Patikul jungle when the assault began on Thursday. – with Reuters