MANILA, Philippines – It was a bloody Friday, November 14, in Sulu as 5 soldiers and 10 Abu Sayyaf bandits were killed in a close-range encounter in the jungles of Talipao town, according to military reports. (READ: 5 soldiers, 28 wounded in clash with Abu Sayyaf)
The firefight started when Army Scout Rangers scouring the foot of Mount Tunggul chanced upon the men of Radullan Sahiron, the Abu Sayyaf's most senior leader who, in 2012, was added to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's Most Wanted Terrorists list for kidnapping an American.
Up to 300 Abu Sayyaf fought alongside Sahiron, also known in the name of "Commander Putol" for losing his right hand to a gun battle decades ago.
It was the first major encounter since the government launched last month offensives against the local terrorist group. It is also the biggest Abu Sayyaf group that the military has engaged in years. (READ: 'Full combat rescue mission' vs Abu Sayyaf begins)
A platoon of Scout Rangers were watching a small group of Abu Sayyaf members from a distance of about 20 meters and were supposed to wait for reinforcement before engaging the bandits. But they were forced to fire prematurely because one of the Abu Sayyaf – who was supposedly going to relieve himself – went towards their direction and was about to discover them.
The troops did not realize that Sahiron was there and the subgroubs were in nearby hills.
It was a case of "pintakasi (cockfight)," according to Task Force Group Commander Colonel Alan Arrojado. The Abu Sayyaf subgroups rushed in, fired from all directions, and sought to surround the soldiers.
Troops on their way to reinforce their fellow Scout Rangers arrived and were able to block other Abu Sayyaf groups. Heavy firefight ensued and lasted 5 hours. The military sent in more troops and attack choppers.
"The bandits wanted to annihilate the platoon by attempting to surround them, so I positioned my platoon about 50 meters behind of the bandits to join the fight," said First Lieutenant Michael Asistores, 30, combat leader of the 1st Scout Ranger Company that reinforced the troops.
Up to 28 soldiers, including Asistores, and 18 bandits were wounded. Three of the soldiers are in critical condition and have been airlifted to a hospital in nearby Zamboanga City.
"Five soldiers paid the ultimate sacrifice in the bloody fighting. They encountered a big group that is why it resulted in so many casualties on both sides," Arrojado said.
"We will continously pursue the bandits in their jungle hideout," he added.
Abu Sayyaf subleader killed
An Abu Sayyaf subleader, Hairullah Asbang, was reportedly fleeing when he was killed by bullets from the military's attack choppers. The military said he has been closely working with Sahiron.
The military said it has the identities of 7 of the 10 Abu Sayyaf members killed in the clash but has not released all the names.
Arrojado said most of the fatalities on the side of the Abu Sayyaf were men of Hatib Sawadjaan, the sub-leader that took hostage German nationals Stefan Okonek and Henrike Dielen.
The military and the police launched law enforcement operations against the Abu Sayyaf on October 18, a day after the local terrorist group released the two German hostages for a reported ransom payment of P250 million.
President Benigno Aquino III had made repeated promises that the Abu Sayyaf will be wiped out. (READ: Aquino vows wipeout of Abu Sayyaf and Pressure on military to show results in hunt vs Abu Sayyaf)
The military's Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) said it also arrested Abu Sayyaf member Rael Majaribil Jumadil or "Abu Mursan" in Zamboanga City on Thursday, November 13.
The man accused of participating in the bloody 2001 Lamitan siege has outstandng warrants of arrests for kidnapping and serious illegal detention. He was working as a private security guard in a shipping line plying Basilan and Zamboanga City when he was arrested. – Rappler.com