ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines
The Philippines military announced Monday that 54 militants have been killed in a series of clashes between a Daesh-linked group and government troops in the predominantly Muslim south, with shelling and airstrikes continuing Monday.
Maj. Filemon Tan, Western Mindanao Command spokesman, said two government troops were also killed since the military began operations last week against the “Maute group” in Lanao del Sur province.
"The troops continue to towards the enemy stronghold and defeat the LTGs [local terrorist groups] in the area," GMA News quoted him as saying.
Col. Roseller Murillo, 103rd Infantry Brigade commander, had earlier said that the operations were “hatched after the Maute group regrouped in Butig town and staged terrorist activities".
He said that among the dead militants was Wowwie Mimbantas, a son of a former leader of the country’s one-time largest Muslim rebel group, Aleem Mimbantas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
The military has been using OV-10 bombers and 81mm mortars in its offensive on the group’s lair since Sunday.
The Maute group -- along with fellow militant group the Abu Sayyaf -- has pledged allegiance to Daesh.
The military has blamed the group for a series of kidnappings in Lanao province in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and holds it responsible for the beheading of the two civilians -- sawmill workers -- in Butig town in Lanao del Sur last month.
In February, a conflict had broken out in Lanao del Sur between government troops and a group of Moro insurgents with reported Daesh sympathies.
Three army soldiers were killed and 11 others wounded in the disturbances, which also left 20 members of the group dead.
The fighting forced around 335 families to flee their homes.
The clashes began when a supposed "foreign and local terrorist organization" led by the "Maute brothers" harassed the 51st Infantry Battalion, which had been manning a patrol base in Bayabao village.
Armored personnel carriers and troops were sent to the area, and the military used two helicopters to track down the armed men and conducted air strikes against them.
The military has said the skirmishes turned into a full-blown military offensive with troops using artillery, gunships and armored personnel carriers against the suspected terrorists.
Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf group -- armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles -- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortions in a self-determined fight for an independent province in the Philippines.
It is notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to be paid for their release.