ZAMBOANGA CITY – Twenty bandits were “killed” as the Philippine Air Force’s newly acquired FA-50 fighter jets pounded and destroyed a camp of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Sumisip, Basilan province, military officials said.
Lt. Col. Andrew Bacala Jr., Army’s 4th Special Forces Battalion commander, on Friday said the fighter jets “delivered deadly payload, inflicting heavy casualties to the ASGs.”
“The ASGs were shocked. They abandoned most of their personal belongings and left unfinished meal at their encampment,” said Bacala, who led a ground assault on Thursday.
“The supersonic jet’s swooshing sound may have sounded as a whisper of death to the ASGs,” Bacala added.
Artillery and mortar fires followed immediately after the airstrikes.
Col. Juvymax Uy, Joint Task Force Basilan commander, said joint troops from the 4th Special Forces and 3rd Scout Ranger Battalion launched a ground assault against the group of Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Furuji Indama in Barangay Pamatsaken, Sumisip.
Uy said that 4th Special Forces Battalion troops swooped down at the Abu Sayyaf camp and engaged the bandits in a firefight just before dawn Thursday.
“Our troops were able to cordon the enemy due to the accurate and timely indirect fires and close support delivered by our artillery and the Philippine Air Force’s [fighter jets],” Uy said.
“Also, the information being volunteered by the populace and LGUs (local government units) provided critical information to validate the intelligence we have on hand,” he added.
Bacala said the troops overran the Abu Sayyaf camp seated on a hilltop before 10 a.m. Thursday. There were 12 makeshift tents that could accommodate around 40 people.
“Heavy bloodstains were found in the vicinity, with intelligence reports saying no less than 20 ASG (members were killed) by the combined airstrike and indirect fires,” a military report said.
The troops have recovered food supplies and bomb-making components capable of fabricating 30 improvised explosive devices (IED).
The Abu Sayyaf bandits, unlike in previous firefights, evaded the government troops as their resources are running low, Uy said.
“We no longer experience prolonged firefights with the ASGs. This suggests that they are running out of ammunition and other supplies necessary to engage government forces. More than just resources, they ‘no longer have the mass base’ they once enjoyed,” he said.
Uy disclosed that the information provided to them by ASG members who surrendered earlier yielded good results, particularly the whereabouts of the bandits.
The Naval Task Group Basilan also conducted maritime interdiction operations to prevent the bandits’ escape by sea as the ground troops launched the assault.
The military has intensified its operation following the order of President Rodrigo Duterte to address the ASG problem in six months, which started in January.
The military have so far killed at least 60 bandits across the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. TPGJR/Darwin Wally Wee/PNA-northboundasia.com