Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, chief of the military’s Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said that troops from the Army’s 21st Infantry Brigade clashed with Abu Sayyaf Group fighters at about 3:00 p.m. at Sitio Bud Lubong, Danag in Patikul.
Eleven soldiers were killed and 14 wounded in Sulu province on Friday during an hour-long gun battle between Philippine government forces and Daesh-inspired militants.
It is thought the bandits were led by ASG leader Radullan Sahiron, and Hatib Hadjan Sawadjaan, who has been identified by the United States as the new Daesh emir in the southern Philippines.
The militants reportedly escaped with a cache of captured weapons and equipment including six R4 rifles, one K3 machine gun, an R4 with an attached 40mm grenade launcher, and a handheld Harris radio.
Maj. Gen. Corleto Vinluan, commander of the Army’s 11th Infantry Division in Sulu, said pursuit operations are on-going.
Maj. Arvin John Encinas, a spokesman for Westmincom, said that the troops were conducting combat operations when they encountered about 40 militants.
“It was a combat operation against the ASG but the enemy were in a vantage position,” he said. “It’s really a sad day.”
Another official, who asked not to be named, said the bodies of some of the dead soldiers were riddled with bullets. He described those who fell as brave, young soldiers, many of whom were still in their twenties.
The military believe that the ASG also suffered casualties, based on the blood stains found at the scene of the battle.
WestMinCom’s Joint Task Forces vowed to continue to maintain security operations, while also taking the lead in the strict enforcement of a community quarantine in Mindanao to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Marine Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, a spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines , said: “Our flags in all military camps around the country will be flown at half mast as eleven Army heroes offered their lives…to protect and defend the people of Sulu.”
He added that the battle “followed two major encounters in previous days, during which our soldiers inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy (killed and wounded) in both armed engagements. High-powered firearms were also seized.”
Arevalo continued: “While the entire nation is grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, our troopers are at the forefront, as the government’s arm to prevent the spread of the dreaded disease on the one hand, while on the other they are batting this terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group.”
AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. passed on his condolences to the families of the slain soldiers and pledged that they will receive any assistance that they require.
In a statement published by its Amaq news agency, Daesh in East Asia claimed responsibility for killing 16 soldiers on Friday during clashes with the Philippine army.