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MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE - 4:31 p.m.) Army losses from the fierce 10-hour battle between Special Forces troops and fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Basilan on Tuesday rose to 19 after the bodies of six more soldiers were recovered Wednesday morning.
The dead include four junior officers,
Army spokesman Colonel Antonio Parlade said the bodies’ recovery confirmed their “worst fears” the soldiers had been captured and then killed later.
Earlier, the military said eight soldiers were missing after the six-hour battle in Al Barka town. They also said the clash was with fighters of the Abu Sayyaf.
The initial list of slain troops released by the military identified 12 of them as: 1st Lieutenants Colt Alsiyao and Frank Junder Caminos, 2nd Lieutenant Jose Delfine Khe, Privates First Class Alex Recafranca, Michael Miguel, Jordan Magno, Jonis Rigor, Ervin Dequito, Emerson Tugas, Jordan Olivar, and Privates Gerry Colonia and Dennis Bulan.
The wounded were 1Lt. Joy Boligueno, 2Lt. Fidel Susarno, PFCs Jeff Sherwin Domingo, Benjamin Marquez, Arnel Balili, Mario Flora, Joseph Muyco, Reynante Malina, Russel Alsaga and Pvt Leo Moniol.
The MILF, in a statement posted on its official website www.luwaran.com, said its forces were involved in the clash, which it said broke out after the Army “deliberately” attacking their positions “without provocation.” It also denied having captured any soldiers and even offered to look for the missing troops.
The rebels, who claimed to have killed 22 soldiers and seized as many weapons on Tuesday, said this was the second military provocation in less than a week, after the October 15 attack by troops of the 53rd Infantry Battalion on the 113th Base command of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) in Payao, Zamboanga Sibugay.
The MILF said it lost seven fighters.
However, the military said the Special Forces units involved in Tuesday’s clash were verifying reports of an armed group led by Dan Laksaw Asnawi, who has been tagged as among those responsible for killing 14 Marines, 10 of whom were beheaded, in Al Barka in 2007.
As for the MILF’s accusations the soldiers had encroached on the rebels’ “area of temporary stay,” thus triggering the clash, Colonel Carlito Galvez said this was the part of the “strategy” of “lawless groups” who would establish their lairs near MILF-held territory and then accuse government troops of initiating hostilities.
Galvez said the estimated 100 Special Forces soldiers involved in Tuesday’s operations initially encounter only 10 gunmen but soon found themselves facing 400 fighters after the MILF rushed reinforcements.
But he denied reports the clash was a "mis-encounter."
Nevertheless, he said a Board of Inquiry headed by the Armed Forces’ Inspector General has been formed to investigate possible lapses that could have triggered the fighting.
"The Board of Inquiry conducted by the Armed Forces is for us to know what happened, (determine) possible lapses and lessons learned from this exercise. We will also look at the accountability, if there is
something lacking," Galvez said.
The results of the inquiry are expected to be released in two weeks.
Both the AFP and MILF have said they will lodge protests before their respective peace panels even as the military said the incident would not affect negotiations with the rebels.