MANILA, Philippines - Five soldiers were killed and 26 others were wounded in clashes with the Abu Sayyaf extremists in Sulu on Friday, the military said.
About 80 soldiers, mostly Scout Rangers, exchanged gunfire with about 300 Abu Sayyaf members in Talipao town in Sulu at 1:50 p.m., said Colonel Allan Arrojado, Task Force Group commander.
This was the first major encounter since government forces launched all out operations against the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf.
Four members of the Islamic extremist group were killed.
Arrojado said the Islamic group was under Radullan Sahiron, the most senior leader of the extremist group, but did not say whether he also engaged in the firefight.
"It's a major encounter. As of now the fighting is over. We are tracking their whereabouts. We are pursuing them," he said.
The military is doing all-out law enforcement operations against the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu after the extremists freed their German captives last month after ransom was reportedly paid. They are holding several other foreign and local hostages in different parts of Western Mindanao.
Major Edilberto Aramponi, Task Force Sulu public affairs officer, said that the military also launched close air support for the ground troops.