The military plans to send more troops to Basilan in the next few days to run after Abu Sayyaf members and other lawless elements involved in several incidents that have already left more than 20 people dead this month.

“Ang plano namin is to move in more troops, in the coming days magmo-move kami immediately ng one infantry battalion doon,” Maj. Gen. Rainier Cruz, commander of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, said in a phone interview.

A battalion, in military parlance, comprises about 500 soldiers. The 64th Infantry Battalion (64th IB) is expected to arrive in Basilan next week from Lanao del Sur, Cruz said.

Aside from the 64th IB, another battalion will be sent to Basilan next month to replace a unit there, he said.

Cruz made the remarks a day after members of the Army’s elite Scout Rangers figured in clashes with Abu Sayyaf members and other lawless elements in Sumisip.

19 dead in clashes

The clashes left 10 dead and 17 wounded soldiers, Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang, spokesman of the Armed Forces’ Western Mindanao Command, said.

Nine have been confirmed killed and at least seven were wounded among the “lawless elements,” he said.

Major Harold Cabunoc, Army spokesman, identified the slain soldiers as Pfc. Segundiano Tamayo Jr., Pfc. Rey Evangelista, Pfc. Arnold Coresis, Pfc. Cleto Algayan, Pfc. Kennith John Maribao, Pfc. Jose Marvin Talamante, Pfc. Mark Ocampo, Pfc. Arwin Martinez, Cpl. Jerry Areglado, and Pfc. Erwin Alerta.

Fatalities on the enemy side were identified as Ustadz Hassan Asnawi, his son Jumaidi Asnawi, Nurham Asnawi, Juhair Aliman, Kaobut Mastul, Hudjata Marain, Meloy Patpi, a certain Balong, and a still unidentified man from Tumahubong.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and AFP chief Gen. Jessie Dellosa visited the wounded soldiers at the Zamboanga Hospital and Camp Navarro Station Hospital, AFP spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos said.

Families of the slain and wounded troopers will be given assistance, he said.

Four officers, who are among the wounded, opted to stay in Basilan to join pursuit operations once they have recovered, Burgos said.

Lapses seen

Cruz said the troops may have committed lapses during the clashes, hence the big number of casualties.

“Na-underestimate natin ‘yung capability ng kabila. Number one, Ramadan hindi dapat sila nago-operate pero medyo mas malaki ang tropa nila at saka may kaunting lapses tayo dun sa ambush,” he said.

The troops faced more than 100 lawless elements, Burgos said.

Earlier, 1st ID spokesman Capt. Albert Caber said two soldiers were killed when Abu Sayyaf members ambushed members of the 10th Scout Ranger Company and 32nd Infantry Battalion.

The troops were attacked around 3 p.m. while on the way to reinforce a detachment in Brgy. Upper Cabengbeng, which the bandits “harassed” an hour earlier, he said.

Operation deliberate

Cruz said Thursday’s clashes resulted from an operation purposely launched against those who ambushed a truck of the Tumahubong Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Integrated Development Cooperative (Tarbidc) last July 11. The ambush left six people dead and 22 others injured.

“Para matapos na ‘yung problema natin dito, hinanap nung tropa saka nung mga Tarbidc ‘yung pinanggagalingan ng problema dun sa pag-ambush sa kanila, so dun nga sa Upper Cabengbeng nakita,” he said.

“Itong mga ito yung nagnanakaw ng mga rubber sap sa rubber plantation ng Tarbidc. Combination ito ng Abu Sayyaf saka lawless elements na gustong makalibre ng product nung rubber trees doon,” Cruz said. (John Roson)

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