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Abu Sayyaf Islamic Fighters Ravage Philippine Army Platoon
Some 550 miles south of Manila, a city of millions, the hub of the Philippines, on the island of Basilan just off Mindanao, the US trained Philippine anti-terrorist force was decimated in a 10 hour gunfight in early April, 2016.
Sections of Mindanao are already under Islamic autonomy but still controlled by the Philippine government in the Cotabato area. There is no Sharia law, but many Muslims live there and many of the opposition are not of the radical variety akin to ISIS. Not yet, anyway. There are some small areas where groups have pledged their support of ISIS. There have been some terrorist bomb attacks in the past under the leadership of Abu Sayyaf. Generally, the U.S. State department advise Americans to steer clear of Mindanao, which is excessive caution. This is NOT the Middle East but the Abu Sayyaf fighters, about 300-500, kidnap foreigners for ransom. The recent battle was because of that and the group demanded $21 million for each hostage (3 of them).
The Abu Sayyaf group’s bases are known to be on Basilan and Jolo islands. The leader of the group is Isnilon Hapilon, a former member of Al Qaeda in the 1990’s. His intent is to separate from the Philippines for their own “caliphate”. The group’s most spectacular terrorist attack was in 2004, when they blew up a ferry in Manila Bay, killing 116. The Philippine army is content to contain them to only those small islands.
When the group threaten to behead the hostages if the ransom was not paid, the Philippine anti-terrorist force attacked them on Basilan. The result caused great concern with both the Philippine Army and the American support. During the battle, 18 Filipinos were killed and 52 wounded from the 44th Battalion. The terrorists lost just 5-10 men. The Philippine force had been ambushed in jungles around Tipo-Tipo by 150 well armed terrorists. Those Filipino soldiers killed or wounded will be given between 50,000-100,000 pesos in financial assistance. Due to bad weather, the meeting engagement between the two forces, the Philippine OV-10 Bronco and MG-520 attack helicopters were grounded, leaving the troops without support. Many IED’s had been encountered.
Since 2002, the US has provided $50 million a year in equipment and special anti-terrorist training. One could say, this was the moment of reckoning after all the training. US officials are baffled and the consensus is that the money has been totally wasted. The battle showed that, even still, the Philippine forces are out fought by well armed terrorists. US Special Ops were based in the Mindanao area until last year to help with the training. The terrorist group is embolden by the victory and their attacks are increasing. In the battle, US forces were forbidden to provide close support as it was a Philippine operation only.
The only good thing from the battle was that a Moroccan bomb instructor, Mohammad Khattab, had been killed. Fears are that as time goes on, the Mindanao area of the Philippines, will become under more threat of Islamic radicalism. The group still has 20 hostages.