AFP taps 7,000-strong force vs. Abu Sayyaf

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — About 7,000 government troops are in Sulu to fight around 400 to 500 members of the Abu Sayyaf group (ASG).

That is tantamount to dedicating 14 soldiers to engage one Abu Sayyaf fighter.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief Gen. Ricardo Visaya said this is the biggest force tapped against the Abu Sayyaf group since it was formed in the early 1990s.

Visaya said one of the biggest challenges in combatting the Abu Sayyaf is the complicated terrain in the jungles of Sulu, which is unknown to soldiers coming from different parts of the country.

“But we can overcome as time goes by,” Visaya said.

He also said another setback is the lack of support from communities in conflict areas. The Abu Sayyaf are known to have a good relationship with residents because they give the people money from the ransom they get.

Visaya said he personally met with local chief executives to appeal to them so they won’t support the Abu Sayyaf group.

Sulu Gov. Toto Tan told CNN Philippines the pouring in of soldiers to fight the Abu Sayyaf is not new and has been the strategy of previous administrations. All failed to eradicate the terror group.

But the AFP is determined to accomplish the decades-old mission this time.

“The AFP is committed to use all the resources of the AFP para matapos na talaga ito (for this to end),” Visaya said Friday in an interview with CNN Philippines.

Preventing spill-over

Some 15 soldiers and 30 Abu Sayyaf members have been killed in heightened military operations in Sulu since last week.

Some 2,000 families or 6,000 individuals have been evacuated, AFP Spokesman BGen. Restituto Padila told reporters on Friday.

Visaya said there is no immediate threat of the conflict spilling over to areas outside Jolo, but said the government forces are ready for anything.

He said AFP met with the Philippine National Police and the Coast Guard last Monday to ensure the security of all key cities in the country.

Notorious group

Although small in number, the ASG is considered as the “most terrifying Muslim extremist group in the Philippines,” said international security analyst Prof. Rommel Banlaoi. He has published several scholarly papers on the ASG.

The Abu Sayyaf has gained notoriety for ransom kidnappings, beheading hostages and bombings.

Related: Who are the Abu Sayyaf?

A few days after assuming office, President-elect Rodrigo Duterte said there will soon be a “day of reckoning” with the Abu Sayyaf and promised to dismantle the group after it beheaded two Canadian nationals in April and June.

CNN Philippines’ David Santos contributed to this report.