World Bulletin / News Desk
Government troops have launched a heavy artillery raid on a suspected Abu Sayyaf lair, overrunning the camp of the al-Qaeda-linked group in the jungles of the southern Philippines.
Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' Western Mindanao Command, said troops captured the fortified camp on Sulu at around 5am Tuesday.
The islands of Sulu and Basilan off the Philippines' southern coast are considered Abu Sayyaf strongholds.
The raid comes in the wake of a local mayor asking U.S. President Barack Obama – on a two-day visit to the Philippines - for continued support in the battle against "terrorism.”
Guerrero said that the military had fired heavy artillery at the area after confirming the presence of an undetermined number of Abu Sayyaf members.
"The enemies [Abu Sayyaf] were forced to abandon the camp and withdrew in different directions," a military statement said. “Information received stated that there were casualties as a result of the mortar shelling."
The statement added that the camp was heavily fortified with bunkers, while foxholes were strategically placed in different defensive positions.
"The whole area is concealed under thick vegetation and has about 50 makeshift huts that can accommodate around 100 people and has a good water source," the statement said. "The captured camp was reportedly a haven where the group consolidated, met, and conducted the training of new recruits."
Military sources told the Anadolu Agency that due to the camp's proximity to roads and trails Abu Sayyaf was able to use it as a staging and rendezvous area for military activities, including kidnapping.
The source did not wish to be named as he was not authorized to speak to media.
On Monday, Zamboanga Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco asked U.S. President Barack Obama for continued and stronger support for police and military forces in the city in its fight against ”terrorism.”
Zamboanga is a Christian enclave in the Philippines “Muslim South. In September of last year, groups opposed to a ceasefire between the government and the area's largest rebel group laid siege to the town, leaving around 200 people dead and some 100,000 people forced to flee their homes.
Since 2002, hundreds of American military personnel have been deployed in the Philippines with a Joint Special Operations Task Force as part of the U.S. global "war on terror." The troops are to provide training and advise local soldiers who have been battling rebel groups, including Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah.
Zamboanga has hosted the force since 2002 - the year after the World Trade Center towers were destroyed - but although the U.S. troops' sole role is to train Filipino soldiers, distribute medicine, build schools, and conduct medical activities, there have been claims that they have actively participated in fighting.
On Monday morning, an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement was signed between the U.S. and the Philippines, which allows for a larger U.S. military presence in the country.
The Abu Sayyaf emerged in 1990 as a splinter group composed of former Moro National Liberation Front fighters and Filipinos who had fought in Afghanistan.
The group resorted to the execution of civilians, bombings, beheadings, and increasingly kidnappings for ransom. Abu Sayyaf had links with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda in the early 1990s, but these links reportedly dwindled in the late 1990s.
After a 2002 operation to eliminate the Abu Sayyaf and free a Philippine nurse and an American missionary couple taken hostage, U.S. forces withdrew from the area, but around 100 soldiers remained to continue to advise the Philippine military.
Both countries heralded the 6-month operation as a great success, in particular the killing of top Abu Sayyaf leader Abu Sabaya by Philippine troops.
Post-2002, the remaining Abu Sayyaf leadership are understood to have established links with Jemaah Islamiyah, an al-Qaeda affiliated group in Southeast Asia, and begun using the southern island of Mindanao for training and organizing strikes.
Abu Sayyaf are also understood to have established links with Rajah Solaiman, a group made of Filipinos from the northern Philippines. Together, these groups carried out major bombings after 2003, including attacks on the Metro Manila that left 22 people dead and around 100 people injured.
The Philippines military said Tuesday that operations against Abu Sayyaf, which is holding a number of kidnap victims, including a Chinese tourist and a Filipino dive resort employee seized in Malaysia, had intensified with the visit of the U.S. president.Last Mod: 29 Nisan 2014, 14:32