From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 3, 2019): AFP readies major offensive vs Abu Sayyaf
There is no more stopping the Armed Forces of the Philippines from launching an all-out offensive against the Abu Sayyaf bandit group following Friday’s death of Dutch national Ewold Horn, reportedly their last foreign hostage.
In an interview aired on Sunday over dzBB, AFP Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) spokesperson Col. Gerry Besana said that previous military operations against the Abu Sayyaf had been “selective and surgical” because of the presence of hostages whose safety was their primordial concern.
“We could not go all out [in our offensive] … because of the chances that kidnap victims might get caught in the crossfire. If we conduct airstrikes, the kidnap victims might get hurt,” Besana explained, adding that the presence of hostages limited the military offensive.
He pointed out, “That is why we, our countrymen, can anticipate a more all-out offensive against them (Abu Sayyaf) because there is no longer anything stopping us in doing what we can do militarily.”
Besana said that there had been no report of kidnappings by the Abu Sayyaf nor of captives that the bandits still hold.
“There is really nothing stopping us now from further intensifying our offensive against this group,” he stressed.
In April 2019, after the rescue of three foreign fishermen held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf, Besana said Horn and four Filipinos were still believed to be held captive by the Abu Sayyaf.
Killed while trying to escape
Horn, a Dutch birdwatcher held captive by the Abu Sayyaf for seven years, was allegedly killed by a bandit, purportedly when he tried to escape during the May 31 clash between the bandit group and the military in Sitio Bud Sub-Sub, Barangay Pansul, in Patikul, Sulu province.
The Dutch national was kidnapped along with Swiss national Lorenzo Vinciguerra and Filipino Ivan Sarenas on Feb. 2, 2012, in Panglima Sugala, Tawi-Tawi province.
Sarenas managed to escape immediately while Vinciguerra fled during a 2014 firefight in Sulu.
To boost the military offensive against the Abu Sayyaf, the AFP has deployed 1,500 troops from the Army’s 1st brigade combat team (BCT) to beef up the newly created 11th infantry “Alakdan (scorpion)” division, which was activated on Dec. 17, 2018, at the Joint Task Force Sulu headquarters in Camp Teofilo Bautista, Jolo town.
The Alakdan division is dedicated to pursuing and fighting Islamic State-inspired terrorists and other threat groups, including the Abu Sayyaf, in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
According to Besana, current efforts are focused on Sulu where the Army’s 1st BCT has been deployed.