By Francis Wakefield
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Joint Task Force Sulu (JTF) Sulu intensified its combat operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Patikul, Sulu, following reports that they have consolidated their forces.
The operations also forms part of the directive of President Rodrigo Duterte to pursue the culprits of the Jolo Cathedral twin bombings.
On the morning of January 27, 2019, two bombs exploded at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, Sulu, which killed 22 people (15 civilians, six soldiers and coast guard) and 94 others injured.
Lt. Col. Gerald L. Monfort, JTF Sulu Spokesperson, said various military assets have been deployed together with the assaulting ground troops to attack ASG lairs in Sulu at 6:40 a.m. Friday, March 8.
Monfort said the military assault early Friday morning was triggered by the monitored and confirmed consolidation of 200 terrorists in the hinterland of Patikul, Sulu.
“The JTF Sulu has been on-track of said ASG activity since the previous days until the launching of the operations. Radulan Sahiron and Hajan Sawadjaan, the ASG main leaders, are reported to be in the consolidation area planning to launch terror acts,” Monfort said.
“Selective aerial bombardment is still ongoing as of this report as the combined ground forces of the AFP are maneuvering for the final assualt,” he added.
Monfort said security within Metro Jolo remains tight to prevent any probable terroristic actions against soft targets to divert the AFP’s attention away from the sustained operations against the ASG.
Brig. Gen. Divino Rey Pabayo Jr., commander of JTF Sulu, said they have stepped-up their tactical offensives against the ASG following the monitored and validated consolidation of the ASG terrorists in the hinterland of Patikul.
“This military offensive is launched before they could carry out whatever terroristic action they are planning which I believe something big as they have consolidated such number of terrorists,” Pabayo said.
“The JTF Sulu will never lose focus in hunting down these terrorists that had been wrecking havoc in this part of the country. Hence, it would be better for them to surrender than be hunted as fleeing criminals of the society,” he added.