Military aims to defeat Abu Sayyaf by June

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) vowed to stamp out the terror group Abu Sayyaf by June this year.

AFP Public Affairs Chief Col. Edgar Arevalo said the military has the upper hand in the fight against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

"We are confident (and) optimistic that... we are on the way to winning and defeating the Abu Sayyaf Group," Arevalo told CNN Philippines' The Source in an episode aired on Thursday.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorezana declared in January that he wanted the ASG gone within six to 12 months. Arevalo said Lorenza reiterated the same call earlier this week.

"He said that he is looking at ending the Abu Sayyaf menace well within the period of six months — that is, by June 30 this year," Arevalo recalled.

The group has an estimated 450 members, known for kidnapping and beheading its captives. Its most recent victim was German national Juergen Kantner.

Related: Military recovers body of slain Abu Sayyaf hostage

"Our records show that we have killed 32 members of the (ASG)," said Arevalo. "Around 20 plus of them were wounded, and around 13 have already been apprehended, or surrendered to the (AFP)."

He also disclosed that at least eight members of the group were killed in a recent military operation in Maimbung, Sulu over a period of two days.

"We were able to hit around 50 to 70 members of the (ASG) is a marsh area," said Arevalo. "We believe there are more Abu Sayyaf killed in this particular operation, we are just not able to locate the bodies."

There were three other operations in Talipao, Patikul, and Indanan last week, where a total of 19 members of the terrorist group were reported dead.

Arevalo also said they were able to successfully drive the ASG away from their "combat confident zone" in Sulu, leaving the group disorganized.

He claimed the ASG was "no longer enjoying the support of the locals," with stronger military presence in the areas.

Arevalo estimated there are still 31 hostages with the ASG, including 25 foreigners and six Filipinos.

"We are unrelentingly looking for them, and we are optimistic that in a few days, hopefully, we will be able to get some of them alive," he said.

Holistic solution

Arevalo said the government plans to adopt a more holistic approach to the security problem in Sulu, noting that the military is only part of the solution.

"We see political, economic, sociocultural, technoscientific, environmental, and military (aspects)," he said. "We cannot defeat the menace the Abu Sayyaf brings only by a military solution."

Lorenzana, along with representatives from the Department of Health and Department of Transportation, as well as AFP service commanders, met with the local government and residents in Sulu.

He said stakeholders, including the Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, actively exchanged opinions and suggestions on how they can solve the problem.

"I was just amazed to the vastness (and) varied opinions and suggestions that they have on how we can solve the (ASG) problem," said Arevalo.

Following speculation that local politicians protect the ASG, Arevalo said that Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan Jr. was willing to "(open) himself and other officials of Sulu up for investigation."

Arevalo said they are also going after the Maute group, which also engage in terror activities. He said five members of the group were killed in a recent military operation in Central Mindanao.