THE Armed Forces of the Philippines' Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) launched concentrated military operations in areas considered stronghold of leaders of the Abu Sayyaf bandits.

Major Filemon Tan, Jr., Westmincom spokesperson, said the target of the military operations launched since Sunday are the groups of Isnilon Hapilon, the new leader of the ASG, and Furuji Indama, a mid-level leader.

Tan said the groups of Hapilon and Indama are positioned at Punoh Amirul in the village of Baguindan, Tipo-Tipo, the stronghold of the bandits.

Tan said the troops from the Army’s 18th Infantry Battalion stationed in the village of Magcawa, Albarka, had been engaging in series of armed confrontation with the group of Indama.

He said the ground troops are backed by rocket-firing MG-520 helicopters of the 3rd Air Division.

He said no casualty was reported on the government side as of Tuesday, July 5, while the number of casualties inflicted on the ASG is yet to be determined by ground troops.

He said the focused military operations are currently being intensified by the Joint Task Force Basilan aimed to neutralize the ASG.

Meanwhile, troops continue to operate in an area where kidnap victim Kjartan Sekkingstand, a Norwegian national, is known to be located in the hinterlands of Sulu.

“As to the report that the kidnap victim will be beheaded anytime, we cannot confirm or deny that,” Tan said.

The Abu Sayyaf bandits kidnapped Sekkingtad along with Canadians John Ridsel, Robert Hall, and Filipina Marites Flor on September 21, 2015 in a posh resort in the Island Garden City of Samal, Davao del Norte.

The Abu Sayyaf bandits beheaded Ridsel last April 25 and Hall last June 13 for failure to meet their ransom demands which runs to millions of pesos.

The bandits release Flor, the fiancé of Hall, on June 24.

Tan said the troops of the Joint Task Force Sulu continue to conduct focused military operations where intelligence reports point operations should be conducted. (Bong Garcia/Sunnex)