ISIS-linked militants in the Southern Philippines have conducted a series of violent clashes with government forces, killing at least 7 soldiers but suffering the loss of over a dozen fighters.
The militants come from at least three separate groups that have pledged allegiance to ISIS. One of the smaller groups launched an attack on a small army outpost on Mindinao, an island in the southern Philippines. The Philippine Army repelled the attack and then countered, killing 12 militants but losing six of their own soldiers.
The counterattack was aimed at an ISIS training camp. ISIS flags have been flying at camps on Mindinao for months, but it’s not clear if these are new camps or just new flags.
In fighting with other ISIS-aligned groups, including the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the Philippine Forces lost another soldier but killed an unknown number of militants.
The group Abu Sayyaf was routed in Dec. 2015 when 300 Philippine soldiers with artillery and air support attacked the main camps and killed their leader, Najib Hussein. But, they’ve continued to attack government positions throughout the south.
“[Islamic State] influence is growing stronger and it is expanding,” Rodolfo Mendoza, a senior analyst at the Manila-based Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research told AFP.
Despite Philippine forces finding ISIS flags, bandanas, and other items on the battlefield, other experts assert that the Philippine groups’ allegiance to ISIS is just a ploy for the Islamic State’s money and weapons.
“It really has nothing to do with ideology,” Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College, told reporters. “This is all about resources.”
The groups involved in the worst of the fighting have existed for years longer than ISIS, and their violence has been going on for years.