Thirteen Islamic militants and two soldiers got killed while six other government troopers were injured in a clash in Talipao, Sulu, early Sunday, the military said.

Brigadier General Romeo Tanalgo, head of the Marine forces in Sulu, said the clash erupted around 4:30 a.m. when a large group of armed men “harrassed” a detachment of the 30th Marine Company in Brgy. Kabungkol.

“The group, under Hatib Zacaria and calling itself ‘Awliyah,’ is a radical derivative organization linked to the Abu Sayyaf and rogue members of the Moro National Liberation Front,” Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command spokesman Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang said in a text message.

In a statement, the Joint Task Force Sulu said those who attacked were rogue MNLF members led by Ustadz Khabier Malik.

“More or less 150 renegade MNLF members armed with high powered firearms to include mortars, light machineguns, and recoilless rifle, staged the daring attack at the break of dawn,” the task force said in statement.

Military helicopters were sent to the area to reinforce the outnumbered Marines.

“Some residents of the barangay were caught in the crossfire, but government forces were precise to direct fire from the MG-520s to the overwhelming enemy to avoid inflicting casualty on the civilians,” the task force said.

Troops recovered the 13 slain militants’ bodies and at least seven high-powered firearms after the two-hour firefight.

According to the task force, the attack was related to the militants’ opposition to the ongoing “developmental projects” in the area.

The Marine unit stationed at the barangay is just safeguarding the construction of a school building under USAID, the task force said. (John Roson)

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