MANILA, May 17 (Xinhua) -- The Armed Forces of the Philippines Wednesday claimed to have reduced the strength of the Abu Sayyaf by about a half, from a high of 500 men, since January when the military waged an intensified campaign against the group.
"Before the campaign started in January this year, we started going after more than 500 Abu Sayyaf members," said Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, commander of the military's Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City.
Previous military estimates placed the strength of the Abu Sayyaf at about 300 to 400 men, mostly based in their bailiwick province of Sulu. The group is notorious for kidnapping, beheading and bombings.
"With the support we are receiving from the local officials, and other stakeholders, including the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) and the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front), we have strong reasons to believe that we are only confronting less than half the number of the bandits right now," said Galvez.
Government forces launched relentless operations against the Abu Sayyaf in January after Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Ano set a new deadline of six months to defeat the Abu Sayyaf.
"Our forces are in full throttle doing both lethal and non-lethal approaches. It will just be a matter of time that we will defeat the entire group," said Galvez.