Three Abu Sayyaf members were killed while six others were injured as government troops assaulted a lair of the bandits in Sumisip, Basilan, the military said Wednesday.

“Air strikes were also conducted early Wednesday to support troops who are still pursuing the bandits,” Armed Forces spokesman Colonel Restituto Padilla said in a text message.

On Tuesday, elements of the Army’s 104th Brigade encountered about 50 Abu Sayyaf members under sub-leader Radzmil Jannatul and Juhaivel Alamsirul.

Soldiers engaged the bandits in three firefights in Brgys. Pamatsaken and Baiwas, Padilla said.

The first clash erupted in Pamatsaken around 11 a.m. and lasted 15 minutes.

Another skirmish erupted shortly before 1 p.m., when Abu Sayyaf snipers fired at soldiers conducting clearing operations in Baiwas.

“Troops conducted counter-sniping operations and inched their way to clearing the area,” Colonel Rolando Bautista, commander of the 104th Brigade, said in a statement.

The third skirmish started past 1:30 p.m., with Jannatul and Alamsirul’s followers joining forces to fight government troopers.

The clash with the combined forces of Jannatul and Alamsirul, who were responsible for an ambush that left six soldiers dead last November, lasted for about two hours, Bautista said.

Soldiers employed close-air and indirect fire support to force the bandits to withdraw to the west, he said.

“As of [Wednesday], the reported Abu Sayyaf casualty coming from different sources is three killed and six wounded, with no casualty on the government side. Troops are still pursuing the withdrawing bandits,” Padilla said.

Earlier this week, the Joint Task Force Zambasulta thru Joint Task Group Basilan launched an operation in Sumisip, targetting Abu Sayyaf leaders.

The operation, dubbed as “Operation: Fortis et Liber,” is part of the Western Mindanao Command’s campaign to clear the Abu Sayyaf’s “area of influence,” Padilla said. (John Roson)

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