Elements of the Philippine Army seized Monday the "last stronghold" of the Abu Sayyaf group in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan in their ongoing operations against the bandits in Mindanao, an Army lieutenant said Tuesday.
Lieut. Ron Villarosa, Public Affairs Officer of the 4th Special Forces Battalion, told CNN Philippines the ASG suffered some casualties, as the military launched the operations against the Abu Sayyaf's bastion of power called Hill 355 at Barangay Silangkum at high noon on Monday.
He said authorities captured the ASG camp with its 10 enemy bunkers, four tunnels, several foxholes and two improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
"The hill is the ASG's last stronghold after the terrorists went on the run from the relentless military operation that started last July," Villarosa said in his Facebook post.
He also said some soldiers were injured in the operations.
Last Sunday, the military seized two other strategic strongholds of the ASG located in Barangay Baguindan Proper and nearby Hill 440 (Kawilan Hill) in Tipo-Tipo.
Villarosa said troops from the Special Forces, Scout Rangers, elite counter terrorism units and Light Armored Cavalry forced at least 80 ASG fighters out of their camps. They recovered seven foxholes, 12 bunkers, three unexploded ordnances and several IEDs.
The Special Forces said the successful operation is a "liberation" for residents of Baguindan, Tipo-Tipo and Bohe Piang of Al-Barka, areas affected by the presence of ASG fighters.
Prior to the attacks, elements of the Philippine Army conducted several dialogues with the residents around the area, including members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), Villarosa said.
"We were working with the MNLF and the other civilians from the area and we were fortunate enough to have a glimpse of the local terrain," he said.
Maj. Filemon Tan, spokesman for the military's Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom), earlier said government forces have lacked cooperation from local residents. He said relatives of Abu Sayyaf members might even be providing sanctuary to fleeing bandits.
Villarosa said some residents "have grown tired" of ASGs seeking refuge in their areas.
"We've seen an increase, a very dramatic increase in their cooperation with the government troops," he said.
The ASG has gained notoriety for ransom kidnappings, beheading hostages and bombings. Their latest victims were two Canadian hostages who were beheaded after no ransom was paid to spare their lives.
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