A Philippine army offensive against the extremist Abu Sayyaf group has ended up in defeat - leaving 18 soldiers and five rebel fighters dead in the worst violence in the troubled south this year, authorities said. The fighting occurred on the island of Basilan, and at least four soldiers were beheaded, regional military spokesman Major Filemon Tan said. He added that 53 soldiers and about 20 Abu Sayyaf had been wounded in the violence but did not give details.
Philippine army defeated by Abu Sayyaf in the island of Basilan
"Our group was heading to attack them. On the way, they were ambushed," Colonel Benedict Manquiquis, spokesman for the unit involved in the battle, told radio station DZRH. "The enemy had the high ground so no matter where our soldiers fled to seek cover, they could still be hit by the heavy firepower and improvised explosive devices of the members of the Abu Sayyaf group," he said.
Abu Sayyaf may become more brazen after defeating the Philippine army
Abu Sayyaf is a small group of militants known for kidnapping foreigners and demanding huge ransoms. The group was established in the early 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network. It has been blamed for the country's worst terror attacks, including a 2004 Manila Bay ferry bombing that claimed 116 lives. Its leaders have in recent years pledged allegiance to Islamic State and are based in the southern islands of Basilan and Jolo which both have large Muslim populations.
Philippine weakness raise fears ISIS may setup its first stronghold in Southeast Asia
Following the defeat, Filipino military officials have vowed to "destroy" the Abu Sayyaf extremist group with more offensives. 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.
ut the results of this battle also suggested that Filipino forces are ill-equipped to tackle well-armed terrorists like Abu Sayyaf, and that long-standing U.S. efforts to tilt the balance in the military's favor have yielded few results, said Zachary Abuza, a specialist on Southeast Asian security issues at the U.S. National War College in Washington. The clashes raise heat on Manila, and also the U.S. over its counter-terrorism program in the Philippines. In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman has refused to comment.
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