No stopping operations vs Abu Sayyaf — AFP
MANILA, Philippines — The military will not stop its operations to crush the Abu Sayyaf group even after the deaths of 18 soldiers in an encounter in Basilan on Saturday, the Araw ng Kagitingan.
Top officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines flew to Zamboanga City early Sunday morning to get updates on the situation, to condole with the bereaved and visit the wounded government troops.
Gen. Hernando Iriberri, AFP chief and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, led the military officials in assessing the situation and the ongoing firefight against the terrorist group.
Iriberri was saddened by the loss of lives but maintained that focused military operations against the Abu Sayyaf should be non-stop to crush the terrorist group.
“His marching orders were that the operations should be continuous and non-stop. He said we shouldn’t waste the lives of our killed comrades and that we should work harder in performing our mission to decimate the enemy,” said the AFP spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla.
Iriberri himself visited the wounded soldiers in Zamboanga City, flying before dawn from Villamor Airbase in Pasay City, Padilla said.
In a joint message, Iriberi, Gazmin, and the Western Mindanao Command commended the soldiers from the Joint Task Group Basilan for their gallantry and valor in fighting the Abu Sayyaf.
“After we grieve for our soldiers, we shall continue the fight to win the peace for our people. Our soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice so that the people of Basilan will be free from terrorists and secure a peaceful and bright future for their next generation,” the joint statement read.
On Saturday, government troops encountered around 100 members of the Abu Sayyaf group led by Isnilon Hapilon and Furuji Indama in Baguindan, Tipo-Tipo in Basilan, with the firefight lasting for 10 hours.
The gun battle resulted in one of the biggest casualties suffered by government troops in a single day in recent years.
The encounter left 18 soldiers dead and six others critically wounded, while a Moroccan terrorist identified as Mohammad Khattab and Hapilon’s son Ubaida Hapilon was killed on the enemy side.
Around 20 were said to be wounded on the enemy side, including sub-leader Radzmil Jannatul, while five were initially reported dead.
Khattab was a bomb maker and jihadist preacher who entered the country around three years ago in an attempt to organize local lawless armed groups to link with international terrorist groups.
Padilla said the government troops were able to prevent the beheading of two soldiers as they were able to recover them.
The Philippine Army chief, Lt. Gen. Eduardo Ano, who was among the military officials who visited Zamboanga City, said the wounded soldiers were in good spirits despite the encounter.
“We visited the wounded, you can still see the fire in their eyes. They were not suffering from low morale. They want to heal soon and get back to the fighting,” the Army chief said.
The 18 soldiers killed in action will be given military honors when the remains are transported to their hometowns, and even during the burial.
Ano described the 10-hour firefight on Saturday as intense, adding their visit was intended to plan how to continue the military operations and destroy the Abu Sayyaf for good.
Asked to describe the slain Moroccan terrorist, the Army chief said Khattab had been in the country for three years and came under the radar of military intelligence a year ago.
“In the past one year he came under our radar because he was serving as the Abu Sayyaf’s conduit, trying to link them up to a Middle East international terrorist group,” Ano said.
He added that the Moroccan was seemingly trying to fill in the shoes of Malaysian terrorist and bomb maker Zulkifli Bin Hir alias “Marwan,” who was killed in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in January last year.
“This guy is an improvised explosives devices expert, he was good at making IEDs… He has contacts in the Middle East and with international terrorist groups,” he said.
Ano added that there could be more enemy fatalities than the five initially reported as the enemy might have immediately buried their fallen companions. SFM
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