World Bulletin / News Desk
The Philippines army says it has seized the Abu Sayyaf's main camp after an intense firefight, dealing a major blow to the Al-Qaeda-linked group who have conducted kidnappings and armed raids in the southern Philippines for years.
Army chief Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero on Thursday described the seizure in the mountain of Patikul on the island of Sulu on Monday as a "tremendous blow to [the Abu Sayyaf] leadership and organization."
"It's as if their house has been taken hold of," he added.
Since 1991, the group - armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles - has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortions in a self-determined fight for an independent province in the Philippines.
The threat was perceived to be so great that a year after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the U.S. military established a Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines to help ill-equipped Filipino forces deal with the group, although under Philippine law they were not allowed to engage in direct combat.
On Wednesday - two days after the raid on the camp, although there is nothing at present to suggest that the two incidents are linked - American and Philippines officials said that the U.S. is disbanding the task force after more than a decade of helping fight al-Qaida-linked rebels.
Guerroro said that with the capture of the camp, Abu Sayyaf commander Radullan Sahiron - on the U.S. most wanted terrorist list - would be drawn into the open.
"So we hope that we will be able to eventually neutralize the entire group," he added.
Brigadier General Martin Pinto said in a statement that to seize the camp, troops had to clear several satellite camps, finally arriving at the main camp, which was fortified with connecting trenches.
There, they discovered that booby traps and landmines lined all approaches and the remaining Abu Sayyaf were set in well–established firing positions. Troops, however, still managed to navigate their way through to the main center.
“Our troops had to breach the enemy’s defenses and squeeze themselves through the complex terrain to be able to get close to the objective,” Pinto said.
He said that after one final firefight, the Abu Sayyaf gave up the camp, scattering in all directions, some of them taking an undetermined number of dead and wounded with them.
Guerrero said that during the entire firefight just two Marines had been injured.
"No government troops died during the fighting,” he added. “We were very fortunate to get to the camp without massive casualties."
He said that the army is continuing to chase down Abu Sayyaf bandits in the area, and described the seizure as part of the government’s continuing effort to address kidnapping and "terror threats" afforded by such groups.
"If we will not capture this camp we will not be able to address those threats in the Western Mindanao [southern Philippines] area," Guerrero said.Last Mod: 03 Temmuz 2014, 16:54