As much as 17 Abu Sayyaf members were killed as government troops carried out back-to-back assaults on lairs of the al Qaeda-linked group in Basilan and Sulu provinces on Wednesday, the military said.

Up to 15 bandits were killed as troops encountered about 100 Abu Sayyaf members in Indanan town while trying to rescue kidnap victims, according to a report from the Armed Forces’ Joint Task Group-Sulu.

Elements of the Army’s 1st Scout Ranger Battalion clashed with followers of Abu Sayyaf sub-commanders Yasser Igasan and Alhabsy Misaya in Brgy. Buanza 5:25 p.m., the task group said in a report.

Artillery rounds were fired to support the Rangers, while soldiers from the 35th Infantry Battalion, 2nd Marine Brigade, and 32nd Infantry Battalion were mobilized to prevent the Abu Sayyaf from sending reinforcements.

Fighting lasted until 7 p.m. and clearing operations are still underway, task group public affairs officer Captain Antonio Bulao said.

Five bodies and three firearms have so far been recovered. No casualties were reported among the troops.

A report reaching the military headquarters in Manila indicated that the bandits in Indanan were holding six captives, including three who have foreign-sounding surnames and two Coast Guard members.

Hours earlier, around 11 a.m., another clash broke out between soldiers and another band of Abu Sayyaf members in neighboring Basilan.

Troops were conducting combat operations when they encountered about 60 bandits in an Abu Sayyaf “stronghold” in Brgy. Baiwas, Sumisip, Joint Task Group-Basilan public affairs officer Lt. Sally Magno said.

Two Abu Sayyaf members and a soldier were killed, while another trooper and six more bandits were injured, she said.

Combat operations are being conducted to “clear Sumisip of Abu Sayyaf presence, which has been hampering socio-economic activities and threatening lives,” Magno said. (John Roson)

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