Philippine troops clashed with dozens of Abu Sayyaf militants allied with the Islamic State group in the country’s south on Friday, leaving 11 soldiers dead and 14 others wounded, military officials said.

Regional military commander Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana said the army scout rangers were manoeuvring for an assault when they engaged about 40 Abu Sayyaf fighters in the forested mountains off Danag village in Patikul town in Sulu Province. The gunfight raged for an hour before the militants withdrew.

A military report said the militants were believed to be led by Abu Sayyaf commanders Radulan Sahiron and Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, who have been blamed for kidnappings for ransom and beheadings.

Bloodstains at the scene indicated an undetermined number of militants were either wounded or killed, the report said. Troops fired mortar rounds toward the retreating militants, and other army troops moved to block the gunmen, the military said.

‘Will sustain our efforts’

“We will sustain our security efforts in order to put an end to the menace of terrorism,” Lt. Gen. Sobejana said by telephone. The clash highlights the diverse problems the Philippines has in addition to the coronavirus.

The military has been staging on-and-off offensives against the Abu Sayyaf, which is listed by the United States and the Philippines as a terrorist organization, for years. The small but violent group is an offshoot of the decades-long separatist unrest in the south of the largely Roman Catholic nation. The violence has eased since the largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, signed a peace deal with the government that replaced a Muslim autonomous area with a more powerful and better-funded region.

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