ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines, Aug. 16 (UPI) — The Philippine army special forces seized the “last stronghold” of the Abu Sayyaf militant group in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan, after one month of fighting, military officials said Tuesday.
“The hill is the ASG’s last stronghold after the terrorists went on the run from the relentless military operation that started last July,” Lt. Ron Villarosa, public affairs officer of the 4th Special Forces Battalion, said in a Facebook post, using an acronym for the group.
He said Abu Sayyaf suffered some casualties in a power base called Hill 355 at Barangay Silangkum on Monday.
“Living up as silent professionals, the 4th Special Forces Battalion is in the forefront on the ‘war on terror’ in Basilan Province — silently doing their share of such critical task — without fanfare nor trumpet’s blare,” he wrote.
He noted the Abu Sayyaf camp had 10 enemy bunkers, four tunnels, several foxholes and two improvised explosive devices.
On Sunday, the military seized two other strategic strongholds of the group in Barangay Baguindan Proper and nearby Hill 440 in Tipo-Tipo.
Lt. Andrew B. Bacala Jr, commanding officer of the special forces, called the operation a “liberation” for residents of Baguindan, Tipo-Tipo and Bohe Piang of al-Barka, which had been held by Abu Sayyaf fighters.
Maj. Filemon Tan, spokesman for the military’s Western Mindanao Command, said since July, around 45 Abu Sayyaf members have been killed in military operations.
Tan said troops under Joint Task Force Basilan also seized an Abu Sayyaf camp on Hill 440, or Kawilan Hill, in Barangay Baguindan Proper on Sunday.
“The troops’ operation became more effective with the strong backing of the local government units,” Tan said.
He noted local government units helped operations by evacuating affected areas after a meeting with Mujiv Hataman, the governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Region.