Fallen troopers honored as AFP pursues ASG in Basilan

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The Wesmincom said more than 2,000 fully armed soldiers had been deployed in Basilan to hunt down Abu Sayyaf members operating in Tipo-Tipo.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Our troops fought gallantly and we salute them as they displayed the finest traditions of soldiery with utmost valor.

This was the tribute given to soldiers killed over the weekend in Basilan — as contained in a joint statement on Monday (April 11) by the Department of National Defense, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom).

Defense and military officials said that even as the country grieved over the death of the soldiers, the fight for peace would continue.

For its part, the Philippine National Police (PNP) extended condolences to the family, friends and relatives of "fallen brothers-in-arms" in the military.

PNP spokesperson Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor commended the soldiers whom he said represented the finest in soldiery.

"They are great men, distinguished officers and outstanding public servants," Mayor said in a statement.

Mayor also noted that the soldiers were killed in action on April 9, which marked the commemoration of the country's Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor).

Pursuit ongoing

Meanwhile, massive military operations continued in Basilan province, as AFP pursued Abu Sayyaf leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Furuji Indama, who led the attack against the military in Basilan on Saturday (April 9).

On Saturday morning, a firefight ensued between the ASG and soldiers from the 44th Infantry Battalion, the 4th Special Forces Battalion, and 14 Cavalry troops in Sitio Bayoko, Baguindan, leaving at least 18 soldiers and five Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits killed, and around 56 wounded.

In a press conference at the Wesmincom headquarters in Zamboanga City also on Monday (April 11), command spokesperson Maj. Filemon Tan said that the military was also verifying reports that four more ASG bandits were killed in offensives on Sunday (April 10).

"Malaki ang puersa para kunin si Isnilon Hapilon" said Tan.

[Translation: There’s a huge force chasing Isnilon Hapilon.]

According to Tan, more than 2,000 fully armed soldiers are now in Basilan to hunt Abu Sayyaf members operating in the Tipo Tipo area.

Khattab neutralization big blow to ASG

Tan claimed that the neutralization Moroccan terrorist Mohammad Khattab during military offensives in the area on Saturday is a big blow to lawless elements in Basilan province.

Khattab was described as an IED instructor and jihadist preacher who was trying to link local lawless armed groups and kidnap-for-ransom groups with international terrorist organizations.

Tan also confirmed that the bandits were able to acquire from the wounded and killed soldiers, weapons like M4 rifle. Tan said, however, they have no final count yet as to how many weapons were obtained by the ASG.

According to the AFP, the military is pursuing about 70 to 80 more ASG members and rebels in the area.

Tan failed to say, however, if there are other foreign terrorists in Basilan at present.

Aside from Khattab, Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon’s son Ubaida Hapilon was also killed in the encounter on Saturday.

Also read: Who are the Abu Sayyaf?

Also read: 14 foreigners currently held by Abu Sayyaf — AFP

CNN Philippines’ Gerg Cahilles and Zamboanga-based Correspondent Liza Jocson contributed to this report.