A major clash between government forces and some 300 Abu Sayyaf fighters left two soldiers and nine bandits dead in Sulu province before high noon on Thursday, Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor).
According to reports, at least 15 soldiers, including two company commanders, and 14 bandits were wounded in the two-hour clash.
The military believes the troops encountered the group of Radullan Sahiron, the most senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf. Sahiron is in the Most Wanted Terrorists list of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation for kidnapping an American.
Armed Forces of the Philippines Public Affairs Chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said in an interview that soldiers from the 32nd Infantry Battalion encountered the bandits at around 10:30 a.m. in Barangay Gata, Talipao town.
Two of the casualties among the government troops, identified as Lt. Nablo, Lt. Arado, and Pvt. Senanggote, were air evacuated to Zamboanga City via Nomad plane. The rest of the wounded soldiers were airlifted via helicopter to Kuta Heneral Teodulfo Bautista Trauma Hospital in Busbus, Jolo.
Fatalities among the bandits were identified as Kiram Jaapar, Adzmer Anni, Almujer Samlahun, a certain Aljon or Almoger, a certain Rony, a certain Sapie, Alnajir Abdurasa, Marjuni Makdam, and Mujil Samlahun.
Four of the 10 wounded Abu Sayyaf fighters were identified as Jani Anlun, Wahid Muhammad, Nadzmer Asiri, and Amil Sawadjaan.
Cabunoc said additional soldiers were deployed to go after the rebels who were seen retreating toward the vicinity of Bud Bagsak.
He added that pursuing troops were aided by attack helicopters and artillery strikes by the Philippine Air Force.