Five soldiers were killed and 26 others were wounded when government troops clashed with a large band of Abu Sayyaf members in Talipao, Sulu, Friday afternoon, military officials said.

Nine Abu Sayyaf members were also killed while more than 30 other bandits were wounded, Colonel Alan Arrojado, commander of the Armed Forces’ Joint Task Group Sulu, said in a statement.

Soldiers encountered about 300 bandits led by Abu Sayyaf top leader Radullan Sahiron in a series of clashes that lasted for five hours, he said.

Major Edilberto Aramponi, JTG Sulu’s civil-military operations officer, said the first clash in Brgy. Bud Bunga started 1:50 p.m. and another erupted 4:30 p.m.

Elements of the elite Army Scout Rangers’ 3rd Battalion, numbering about 150, met the Abu Sayyaf twice and the bandits used grenade launchers, Aramponi said by phone.

“Mayroon ding ibang units na kasali doon sa operation, nandoon din ‘yung 35th Infantry Battalion at saka Marines, pero ‘yung Rangers ang nakahagip,” he said.

The slain soldiers, all enlisted personnel, belong to that unit, Aramponi said.

It was not immediately known if the wounded soldiers include officers.

Arrojado said an MD520 attack helicopter was deployed to support ground troops during the fighting.

Hairullah Asbang, an Abu Sayyaf sub-commander, reportedly died of bullet wounds inflicted by the attacking aircraft, he said.

Those reported killed on the Abu Sayyaf side also include Hamer Absara and Beting Jakka, Sahiron’s brother-in-law, Arrojado said.

Aramponi said troops have yet to recover any of the slain bandits, but were able to confirm their deaths thru intelligence operatives.

Arrojado said pursuit operations against the bandits will go on through the night.

“More troops were sent to block the escape routes of the bandits. We will continuously pursue them in their jungle hideouts,” he said.

More than 2,500 soldiers are presently in Sulu to run after Abu Sayyaf members, following an order by President Benigno Aquino to stop the al Qaeda-linked group’s kidnapping activities “once and for all.”

The “law enforcement operation” against the Abu Sayyaf was launched after the bandits released German captives Stefan Viktor Okonek and Henrike Dielen on October 17. (John Roson)

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