Seven members of the Marines got killed while 21 others were injured in a clash with Abu Sayyaf members in Patikul, Sulu, Thursday morning, the military said.

Lieutenant Col. Randolph Cabangbang, Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command spokesman, said the clash erupted around 4:30 a.m. and ended 9:30 a.m.

Members of the 11th Marine Battalion Landing Team (MBLT-11) clashed with Abu Sayyaf members under Radullan Sahiron, Cabangbang said in a text message.

The regional military spokesman denied speculations that the incident was an ambush because of the big number of casualties.

“Ang tingin ko kasi, nagma-maneuver sila the whole night and then in the morning nasa loob na pala sila ng (Abu Sayyaf) camp kaya gan’un ang casualty natin,” Cabangbang told reporters when reached by phone.

In Camp Aguinaldo, AFP spokesman Commodore Miguel Jose Rodriguez said the incident was a “strategic victory” despite the loss of lives because troops overran the Abu Sayyaf camp.

“Nothing is free, we understand the nature of our profession. We put our lives on the line so that we can finally rid the country of the remaining ASG terrorists that are concentrated in that area,” Rodriguez told reporters in a briefing.

Brigadier Gen. Romeo Tanalgo, head of the military’s Sulu Island Command, asked the Westmincom to send air assets that would fetch the dead and wounded, as well as support the embattled troops, Cabangbang said.

The MBLT-11 was carrying out a combat operation when it encountered more or less 70 bandits not only led by Sahiron, but also Isnilon Hapilon, another known Abu Sayyaf commander, according to a military source.

The US government offers $5 million and $1 million rewards for Hapilon and Sahiron, respectively, for their alleged involvement in the kidnapping of 20 tourists, including three Americans, at the Dos Palmas Resort in Palawan on May 27, 2001.

The three Americans comprise Guillermo Sobero and missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham. Sobero was beheaded the same year while Martin Burnham got killed when Abu Sayyaf members clashed with troops during a rescue operation in June 2002. (John Roson)

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