President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered his security forces to wipe out the Abu Sayyaf, which has declared allegiance to the Islamic State group and recently beheaded two Canadian hostages.
But an assault that began last week on the heavily forested island of Jolo, one of the Abu Sayyaf’s strongholds about 900km south of Manila, has met fierce resistance.
Fifteen troops were killed and another 10 were injured in a single encounter with the Abu Sayyaf on Monday.
An additional 2,500 troops were on Tuesday deployed to Jolo and nearby islands.
The extra troops would join two brigades already involved in the fighting and here are at least 1,000 soldiers in a brigade.
“Go out and destroy them. Kill whoever they are,” Duterte said last week, in reference to the Abu Sayyaf.
The Abu Sayyaf is a loose network of a militants formed in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network. It is based in remote Muslim populated southern islands of the mainly Catholic Philippines, and has earned millions of dollars from kidnappings-for-ransom.
While its leaders have in recent years pledged allegiance to Islamic State, analysts say the group is mainly focused on a lucrative kidnapping business rather than religious ideology.
This year the militants beheaded two Canadians after their demands for millions of dollars in ransoms were rejected. The group is currently believed to be holding a Norwegian, a Dutchman and five Indonesian sailors, according to the military.
Previous Philippine leaders made similar vows as Duterte to wipe out the Abu Sayyaf and failed, even with help from military ally the US.