17 killed as Filipino troops battle militants

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Philippine marines from 11th Battalion take part in troops and armaments inspection at Fort Bonifacio military camp in Taguig, Metro Manila, in this June 13, 2014 photo.

Philippine marines from 11th Battalion take part in troops and armaments inspection at Fort Bonifacio military camp in Taguig, Metro Manila, in this June 13, 2014 photo.

MANILA: Philippine security forces battled Abu Sayyaf militants in the south on Thursday in fierce clashes that killed seven troops and 10 rebels in the latest confrontation in the insurgency-wracked region, military officials said.

Government forces were patrolling a remote jungle area when they saw a group of Abu Sayyaf gunmen and engaged them in a gun battle that killed a marine near Patikul in predominantly Muslim Sulu province, military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said.

An army outpost near the initial clash was hit by mortar fire 10 minutes later, killing six soldiers and wounding several others, Zagala said. He said three of the wounded were in serious condition and were airlifted by helicopters to a military hospital in southern Zamboanga city.

At least 24 marines and soldiers were wounded in the clashes, mostly by the barrage of mortar fire.

The military said 10 militants were killed in the fighting. Troops were pursuing the retreating militants, who were believed to be led by an Abu Sayyaf commander named Hairullah Asbang who has been linked to recent ransom kidnappings, the military said.

The militants have been holding a number of kidnap victims in Sulu’s jungles, including two European bird watchers who were abducted two years ago and a Malaysian-Chinese who was seized from the Malaysian state of Sabah more recently. There were no indications that the captives were at the scene of the fighting, officials said.

The Abu Sayyaf was organized in the early 1990s in Basilan province, near Sulu. The organization vowed to wage war, but lost its key leaders early in combat, sending it on a violent path of extremism and criminality.

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