Deadline to beat Abu Sayyaf reset to year-end

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    THE Armed Forces has reset anew its self-imposed deadline for dismantling the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), moving it to before year-end.

    “We are striving to really end it this year,” AFP chief Gen. Gilbert Gapay told Basilan Rep. Mujiv Hataman at the hearing on the P208.7-billion proposed budget of the Department of National Defense for 2021.

    He said the military does not want the ASG to operate beyond this year so that the terrorist group will no longer be a problem by 2022, before President Duterte’s term ends.

    Last January, Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, then Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief now Army chief, announced that the new target date to end the ASG was reset to last March 31 from Dec. 31, 2019. The Westmincom said then that the estimated strength of the ASG bandits is around 300 in the provinces of Basilan and Sulu.

    Gapay said the AFP’s focus now is to end the ASG operating in Basilan and Sulu and “endeavor to really degrade them significantly.”

    The military earlier said the ASG perpetrated the August 24 twin suicide attacks in in Jolo, Sulu, which killed 17 persons and injured more than 70 others. Two female suicide bombers also died in the attacks.

    The AFP has said 83 civilians and government soldiers have been killed and 505 others injured in bombings perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf group since 2009.

    Gapay said the AFP has identified eight foreign terrorists in the country that are “integrated in the local terrorist groups factions, particularly the Abu Sayyaf.”

    He said there are 29 others on its watchlist but the military is still verifying the reports it has been receiving.