Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the military to intensify their offensive against Abu Sayyaf and go "full force" after them. The offensive launched last week resulted in the killing of at least 30 Abu Sayyaf militants, while the government forces suffered 15 casualties on Monday (29 August) in Patikul in Sulu Province, the army has said.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella confirmed that the president is committed to destroying the militant group down to the last man and have approved the deployment of more forces to the operation. "Definitely the President is focused on making sure that the threat from the Abu Sayyaf should be terminated as soon as possible," he said.
Abella also said that five more battalions would be deployed, in addition to the existing forces fighting Abu Sayyaf in the Sulu province. "We are going full force in all-out operations against them. We are adding five battalions or about 2,500 people and they'll only be in Sulu," he was quoted as saying by the Philippines Star.
On the additional deployments, the Filipino military's Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) issued a statement recently, saying: "What you see is just the tip of the iceberg; more troops, more equipment and more firepower will be committed to destroy the Abu Sayyaf". The command also warned people that individuals or groups found to be helping the militant group will also be included in their target list.
"The momentum is on our side and we will continue this fight until we accomplish the mission. Those who are aiding the Abu Sayyaf will be dealt with by the armed forces," Tan said.
Around 5,000 troops are already based in Sulu and 2,500 in Basilan. In addition, the Armed Forces of the Philippines have reportedly brought in troops from the Visayas, Luzon and other areas of Mindanao Islands in southern Philippines, deploying them to the island provinces with the only aim of eliminating Abu Sayyaf from the country.
Brig Gen Restituto Padilla, spokesman for the armed forces, reportedly said that fighting resumed on Tuesday (30 August) with the troops launching an all-out offensive to decimate Abu Sayyaf. He added: "To date, 30 Abu Sayyaf gunmen have been killed to include those slain in [Tuesday] morning's fighting."
Westmincom spokesman Major Filemon Tan Jr denied reports that two of their soldiers were beheaded by the militants. He said that the Abu Sayyaf fighters used the cell phones of two slain soldiers and sent fake messages of beheading to the families, the newspaper reported.
On the military casualties, he said it was because of the difficult terrain that the fighting is taking place in. "The Abu Sayyaf group has mastery of the terrain and they knew the fields of fire and were on the edge of the terrain," he noted.
Meanwhile, the president reportedly said he is ready for any counter-offensive by the militants and the casualties suffered by the government troops as a result. "I know that there will be some reprisals, I'm ready for that. There's always a drawback there but you know every time you do that, it's a slap on the face of government," Duterte reportedly asserted.