Manila, Philippines – Philippine troops suffered one of their worst losses in an offensive against al-Qaida-linked militants on a southern island that left at least 23 soldiers and 20 guerrillas dead, officials said today.
Troops continued to scour the battlefield following clashes Wednesday with Abu Sayyaf militants in two of their jungle camps on Basilan island, and the tally of slain militants could rise, said regional military commander Maj. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino.
“It was a slugfest,” Dolorfino told the Associated Press by telephone.
Although weakened by yearslong U.S.-backed offensives, about 400 Abu Sayyaf gunmen on Basilan and nearby Jolo island and the Zamboanga peninsula have recently turned to ransom kidnappings to raise funds for terror attacks, officials said.
More than 400 marines, army and police commandos launched simultaneous, pre-dawn attacks Wednesday on two Abu Sayyaf encampments in hilly Silangkum and Baguindam villages, sparking fierce daylong fighting.
Putin wants base in separatist area
Moscow – Prime Minister Vladimir Putin traveled to the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia on Wednesday and pledged to strengthen Russia’s military presence there, defying U.S. and European objections amid simmering tensions in the region.
Speaking on the anniversary of his nation’s victory over Georgia in a five-day war last year, Putin said the Kremlin planned to spend nearly $500 million to build a base in the separatist enclave and reinforce its de facto border with Georgia.
“It won’t be a Maginot line,” Putin said, referring to the fortifications France built against Germany before World War II.
His remarks and appearance in Abkhazia underscored Russia’s growing foothold in what once was Georgian territory and highlighted the sharp differences that remain between Moscow and Washington despite the Obama administration’s efforts to “reset” bilateral relations.
U.S. and European officials have called on Russia to comply with the cease-fire agreement that ended the war and withdraw its troops to prewar positions and levels.