AFP downplays ISIS hand in Basilan clash

Basilan (CNN Philippines) — The military said on Tuesday (April 12) it is doing its best to prevent a spill-over of the conflict after the firefight against Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Tipo Tipo, Basilan on Saturday (April 9).

The military is deploying troops strategically to keep Abu Sayyaf fighters from slipping into nearby towns.

With Furuji Indama reportedly critically injured during an encounter on Sunday (April 10), government troops are on the look-out for Isnilon Hapilon, the Abu Sayyaf Group leader in Basilan who recently pledged allegiance to ISIS.

Also read: Who are the Abu Sayyaf?

The military also confirmed that the viral video showing the intense clash is real.

The soldiers seen in the video are members of the 44th Infantry Battalion.

A total of 18 soldiers died during the encounter — the biggest death toll in a single military operation since 2011.

"Yung nagpa-fire ng caliber 30, tropa natin 'yun," said Western Mindanao Command spokesman Maj. Filemon Tan. "Nagbibigay sya ng suppressive fire for the troops to maneuver also."

In the 10-minute video, a soldier is seen frequently inserting a rod to his caliber 30 machine gun, seemingly fixing something so he may fire his weapon.

But the military clarifies the machine gun did not jam.

"Kasi ang caliber 30, naka-link yan so kailangan talaga minsan magpasok ng isang projectile. It has its own mechanism. Pero nakita nyo naman ang putok dire-diretso," said Tan.

Soldiers killed Moroccan terrorist Mohammad Khattab and Hapilon's son Ubaida Hapilon during the operation, and operations are now targeted at ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon.

Also read: Fallen troopers honored as AFP pursues ASG in Basilan

In an earlier interview with CNN Philippines, international terror expert Rohan Gunaratna confirmed Hapilon is one of the ISIS leaders in the country.

"Late last year, four groups that are based in the Philippines came together. They unified at the request of the Islamic State, and they pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. They appointed Isnilon Hapilon, the deputy leader of Abu Sayyaf group, who broke away from Abu Sayyaf, as their leader," said Gunaratna.

But the military maintained there is no presence of ISIS in the country.

They said Hapilon is an Abu Sayyaf leader and there's no direct link between his group and ISIS.

The military also said they have killed 24 Abu Sayyaf fighters since Saturday.

In the past two days, though, there have been no reports of direct clashes between the bandits and government troops.

Only sporadic gunfire has been reported since Monday.