Wesmincom: Sporadic firefight ongoing in Basilan

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Government forces have stopped Abu Sayyaf gunmen who tried to enter Tipo-Tipo, Basilan, and continued to engage the militants in sporadic firefights Thursday on the outskirts of the town, a military spokesman said.

The fighting erupted late Wednesday when troops blocked an undetermined number of militants, whose positions also were pounded by airstrikes, said Maj. Filemon Tan, spokesman for the military’s Western Mindanao Command.

There were no immediate reports of casualties on either side.

“The firefight can be described as sporadic. It can be intense for how many minutes and it will stop and it will go on again after a few minutes,” Tan told CNN Philippines.

Following the clash, the government evacuated residents living around the area, Tipo-Tipo Mayor Tong Istarul said. He did not say how many have been moved or had fled to temporary shelters.

Also read: Thousands flee amid Basilan clashes

Citing intelligence reports, Tan said there were 100 to 150 Abu Sayyaf fighters in the area, but it wasn’t clear how many of them were involved in the actual fighting.

Also read: Who are the Abu Sayyaf?

The militants were led by Isnilon Hapilon, a senior Abu Sayyaf leader who recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, and Basilan-based commander Furuji Indama.

Hapilon and Indama led an attack against soldiers also in Tipo-Tipo last April 9, killing 18 soldiers in the biggest single-day combat casualty suffered by government forces in the area since 2011, the military said.

The 10-hour gun battle raged as the country commemorated the Day of Valor (Araw ng Kagitingan). Indama was reported to have been critically wounded in the fighting.

Also read: Basilan clash: What we know so far

Since Tipo-Tipo is not new to ASG attacks, Tan said soldiers have been deployed near the municipality and military operations have been conducted in nearby barangays since Sunday.

“We are prepared for this so there's no need to worry,” Tan said.

CNN Philippines correspondent Gerg Cahiles contributed to this report.