Government troops clashed with suspected Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Abu Sayyaf members in Al Barka, Basilan, early Tuesday, leaving 11 combatants dead, military sources said.

Four soldiers, comprising three officers and an enlisted personnel, got killed while seven lay dead on the enemy side, a military source said, adding that three other soldiers were injured.

The soldiers, all of the Army’s 4th Special Forces Battalion (4SFB), were hunting down an escapee from the Basilan Provincial Jail when they encountered armed men, said the source, who requested anonymity for lack of authority to speak on the matter.

Lieutenant Col. Randolph Cabangbang, Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command spokesman, confirmed that members of the 4SFB clashed with “armed men” around 5:30 a.m.

Cabangbang, however, said they still have yet to receive other details on the clash as the military unit in the area was still occupied in the “evacuation of casualties.” Casualties, in military parlance, can mean either dead or wounded.

Colonel Arnulfo Burgos, Armed Forces public affairs chief, said the troops clashed with members of the Abu Sayyaf and “lawless elements.”

An MG520 helicopter and OV-10 bomber plane were sent to provide “close air support” to the embattled troops while two UH-1H helicopters were also deployed to fetch the wounded, Burgos said.

The soldiers, comprised of members of 13the Special Forces Company and students of the military’s scuba diving course, encountered MILF members under Laksaw Dan Asnawi and Abu Sayyaf members under Nurhassan Jamiri.

“They (soldiers) were in the area to hunt down an escapee from the Basilan Provincial Jail when they encountered armed men, another group reinforced the enemy so our troops were outnumbered,” the source said.

Asnawi, according to police records, is a member of the MILF 114th Base Command and was among those charged for the killing of 14 Marines, of which 10 were beheaded, in Al Barka in 2007.

He and at least 30 inmates were “rescued” from the Basilan Provincial Jail in December 13, 2009, when a band of heavily-armed men stormed the facility. (John Roson)

– end –