MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine troops, backed by rocket-firing helicopters and artillery fire, killed up to nine Abu Sayyaf extremists in fighting Thursday after the new military chief warned of a "shock and awe" offensive to wipe out the militant group known for its brutality.
One soldier was killed and six wounded as government troops battled about 130 Abu Sayyaf fighters in the jungles of mountainous Patikul town in Sulu province, said regional military spokesman Maj. Filemon Tan. In addition to the Abu Sayyaf deaths, 13 of the militants were wounded, he said.
The militants were led by one-armed Abu Sayyaf commander Radulan Sahiron but it was not immediately clear what happened to him. The United States and the Philippines have offered separate bounties for the capture and prosecution of Sahiron, who has been blamed for bomb attacks and kidnappings for ransom.
In nearby Basilan province, troops fought about 200 Abu Sayyaf gunmen for five hours late Wednesday. The clashes resumed Thursday but there were no immediate reports of casualties, Tan said.
President Rodrigo Duterte has warned the Abu Sayyaf to stop a wave of ransom kidnappings, adding he would eventually confront the militants.
Military chief Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya said early this week a looming offensive would "shock and awe" the extremists, suggesting the use of overwhelming firepower against the resilient militants, who have survived more than a decade of on-and-off offensives.
Additional troops have been deployed to Basilan and Sulu, predominantly Muslim provinces where the militants have kept hostages in jungle encampments. Two Canadians were successively beheaded by the militants in Sulu after ransom deadlines lapsed, sparking condemnation from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
A Norwegian, a Dutch bird watcher and a group of seven newly kidnapped Indonesian tugboat crewmen remain in Abu Sayyaf custody.
The United States and the Philippines have blacklisted the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization for bombings, kidnappings for ransom and beheadings.