MANILA, May 14 (Xinhua) -- Two soldiers and 10 Abu Sayyaf militants have died after an attempt to free hostages held by Islamist militant group, the Philippine army said on Monday.
The clash took place in Tanum, a remote village in Patikul town in the southern Philippines around 6:15 a.m. Sunday, said Brigadier General Cirilito Sobejana, the commander of the Joint Task Force Sulu.
"The firefight that lasted for about an hour left two soldiers dead and an estimated 10 unidentified Abu Sayyaf members killed," Sobejana said.
Sobejana said the troops had launched artillery shells at the Abu Sayyaf fighters. "Our actions are however very limited and calculated since we do not want to harm the kidnap victims," he said.
The troops are tracking down two policewomen who were abducted last month in Paitkul. The policewomen were among the several hostages who were kidnapped by the militants loyal to the extremists.
"We will continue to conduct pursuit operations in order to get the remaining Abu Sayyaf militants and rescue the kidnap victims." Major General Arnel Dela Vega, the general officer in charge of the Western Mindanao Command.
"We have strong reasons to believe that our troops inflicted heavy enemy casualty because we were the ones who initiated the action," Dela Vega.
"Only that they have numerical superiority that they were able to put up stiff resistance," he added.
Abu Sayyaf, a radical Islamist group in the Philippines, often carries out kidnappings, bombings and beheadings in western Mindanao, particularly in their lair in the island provinces of Basilan and Sulu.