About 6,000 troops are involved in a jungle-based offensive against some of Southeast Asia's most-wanted Muslim militants that will continue during the Islamic holy month of Ramazan, Philippine military officials said on Tuesday.
Philippine and US military officials have expressed optimism that the US-backed offensive that started on southern Jolo island on August 1 could lead to the capture or death of Abu Sayyaf chieftain Khaddafy Janjalani and Indonesian militants Umar Patek and Dulmatin, who have been blamed for major terror attacks.
Although struggling against dense forest and sprawling mountainous terrain, the troops are working on good intelligence leads and "chances are good"
that the militants will be found, military chief Gen Hermogenes Esperon said.
The offensive, among the biggest in recent years, would not disturb the observance of Ramazan that starts later this month because it is being waged in predominantly Muslim Jolo's mountainous hinterlands, said army Maj Eugene Batara, spokesman of the military's Western Mindanao Command.
"If we have a ceasefire, the Abu Sayyaf and the Jemaah Islamiyah would reorganise and consolidate their forces and eventually launch attacks. We won't allow that to happen," he said.
The Abu Sayyaf and the Indonesian-based regional group Jemaah Islamiyah have been linked to the Al-Qaeda network. Patek and Dulmatin of the Jemaah Islamiyah have been hunted by Indonesian and Philippine authorities for allegedly helping plan the 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali, Indonesia that killed 202 people.