Although a large number of marines and policemen are involved in the offensive, only small units have been deployed to hunt down the Abu Sayyaf in two jungle encampments in Sulu, Cenabre said without providing details of the operation. U.S. forces were providing intelligence but were not involved in actual combat, he said.
While Abu Sayyaf abductions still occur, they are far fewer today than the massive kidnappings that terrorized Sulu and outlying provinces in the early 2000s, when the group had many commanders and strong ties with terrorist organizations, including Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah.
U.S.-backed military offensives have crippled the Abu Sayyaf in recent years, but it remains a key security threat. Washington lists the group, which still has about 300 armed fighters, as a terrorist organization.
Philippine troops and police special forces, meanwhile, killed one of two gunmen who were trying to extort money Saturday from a restaurant in Sulu's capital town of Jolo, Cenabre said.
Armed with pistols, the two men shot it out with government forces. One was shot in the head and died and the other was captured, Cenabre said. He said investigators were trying to determine whether the two had ties with the Abu Sayyaf, which is also notorious for extortion.