MANILA — Abu Sayyaf extremists killed 15 Philippine army soldiers in fierce fighting Monday in the country’s restive south, dealing the government its largest single-day combat loss under President Rodrigo Duterte, who ordered the militants to be crushed for their brutality.
Military officials said five other soldiers were wounded in the nearly two-hour gun battle that also killed at least two militants in Sulu province’s mountainous Patikul town, where the Abu Sayyaf have detained many of their kidnap victims.
The estimated 70 militants were led by Abu Sayyaf commander Radulan Sahiron, a one-armed fighter long wanted by Philippine and US authorities for his role in bombings, kidnappings, and other acts, according to regional military commander Major Filemon Tan and police officials.
Duterte ordered troops to hunt down and destroy the militants in their jungle bases last week after the extremists beheaded a kidnapped villager whose family was too poor to pay a ransom.
Also Monday, Duterte defended his antidrug campaign, saying the nearly 1,800 deaths in two months didn’t compare with brutality in Syria or atrocities committed by Islamic State extremists.
At least 1,779 drug suspects have been killed in Duterte’s campaign, including 712 who were gunned down in clashes with police, with the rest being slain in still-unclear circumstances, the national police chief told a Senate inquiry last week.