At least 18 soldiers were killed in fierce day-long fighting with Abu Sayyaf extremists in the southern Philippines on Saturday in the largest single-day government combat loss this year, officials said.
At least 52 other soldiers were wounded in the clashes with the Abu Sayyaf and its allied gunmen in the hinterlands bordering Tipo Tipo and Al-Barka towns on Basilan island, three military officials told AP. Four militants were killed in the clashes.
The three senior military officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to publicly discuss details of the clashes. The large combat casualties were reported as the country marked the Day of Valor to remember Filipino veterans who perished in World War II.
Government forces were deployed to kill or capture Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon, who has publicly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and has been hunted for years for his alleged involvement in several terrorist attacks, the officials said.
The militants, however, apparently managed to reinforce their ranks quickly and managed to muster between 100 and 150 fighters, allowing them to inflict large casualties on troops, the officials said.
It’s the largest single-day government combat loss this year in the south, where the military has been battling Muslim separatist rebels and extremists, and Marxist guerrillas.
Freed Italian hostage leaves hospital
A retired Italian priest held hostage for six months by suspected Islamic militants left a Philippines hospital Saturday (April 9), a day after his release, looking frail though officials said he was in good health.
A thin Rolando Del Torchio waved to journalists as he walked to a waiting ambulance after spending the night in a military hospital in the southern port of Zamboanga.
“The victim is emaciated. He has lost a lot of weight compared with what we saw in his old pictures,” regional military spokesman Major Filemon Tan told reporters. “He is okay otherwise.”
The Italian was held captive by the Abu Sayyaf group after armed men snatched the then 56-year-old at gunpoint at his pizza restaurant in the southern city of Dipolog in October last year.
“The ASG was behind this kidnapping,” Tan said, referring to the group by its initials.