Two Army personnel, including an officer, and six suspected Abu Sayyaf members were killed as government troops clashed with bandits who ambushed them in Al Barka, Basilan, on Monday, military officials said.

Col. Carlito Galvez, commander of the Army’s 104th Brigade, identified the fatalities on the government side as Maj. Alin Kannung, executive officer of the 32nd Infantry Battalion, and Tsgt. Ferdinand Costan.

Six suspected Abu Sayyaf members were killed but only two bodies, identified to be those of a certain “Mingkong” and Mardan Sapilin, were recovered, Galvez said.

Four other soldiers, including Cpl. Julambre Sabri of the 18th Infantry Battalion, were injured during the clash while three Abu Sayyaf members wer reportedly wounded, he said.

The clash occurred around 3 p.m. while members of the 32nd and 18th IB were passing through Sitio Pagtawanan, Brgy. Magcawa, on military vehicles.

The soldiers were on their way to Brgy. Bohe Piang to distribute livestock and inspect future projects of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), when they were ambushed by about 30 fully-armed men, Galvez said.

The armed men are members of the Abu Sayyaf and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters led by Basir Kasaran alias Commander Basir and Musana Jamiri, he said.

“The government forces were subjected to mortar and sniper fires for three hours,” Galvez said.

“Naka-dismount naman ‘yung mga tropa natin during that and were able to fight back,” he said.

Kannung, a native of Tipo-Tipo, was a former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) commander who was integrated into the Armed Forces after the government signed a peace agreement with that rebel group in 1996, Col. Rodrigo Gregorio, AFP Western Mindanao spokesman, said.

After joining the AFP, Kannung had been “very active” in the campaign against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan and this is believed to be the cause of the bandits’ hatred on him, Gregorio said.

Kannung’s group was to distribute goats and other livestock as part of the 104th Brigade’s livelihood assistance to residents of Brgys. Kambug and Bohe Piang, when they were ambushed, according to the regional military spokesman.

The area is the “home base” of Commander Dan Asnawi, Gregorio said.

Asnawi commands an armed unit of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) with whom soldiers figured in a bloody clash on Oct. 18, 2011. Nineteen soldiers and five MILF guerrillas died in that fighting.

Gregorio said all the soldiers who were injured in Monday’s clash have been airlifted to the Camp Navarro Station Hospital in Zamboanga City.

Members of the 18th IB, backed by members of the 4th Scout Ranger Battalion, continued distributing livestock to residents of Brgy. Magcawa on Tuesday, despite the ambush, Galvez said. (John Roson)

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