By Hader Glang
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (AA) - The Philippines military says 22 members of a Daesh-linked group have been killed in a series of clashes with government troops in the predominantly Muslim south in the past three days.
Military spokesman Maj Filemon Tan Jr. said in a statement Saturday that the deaths occurred after the "beheading of two civilians in the area" of Lanao del Sur.
"Since May 26, 2016, intense military operations are being conducted against the local terrorist group," he added.
Tan said the operations had resulted in a series of clashes which left 22 members of the largely unknown "Maute group" dead, along with two soldiers
Nine government troops were also wounded.
The Maute group -- along with fellow militant group the Abu Sayyaf -- has pledged allegiance to Daesh.
Tan said government forces remained in pursuit of the group.
The military has blamed the group for a series of kidnappings in Lanao province in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and holds it responsible for the beheading of the two civilians -- sawmill workers -- in Butig town in Lanao del Sur last month.
The deaths of the Daesh-linked group members follow a conflict that broke out in in Lanao del Surn on Feb. 20 this year between government troops and a group of Moro insurgents with reported Daesh sympathies.
Three army soldiers were killed in the disturbances, 11 were wounded, and 20 members of the group died.
The fighting forced about 335 families to flee their homes.
The clashes began when a supposed "foreign and local terrorist organization" led by the "Maute brothers", harassed the 51st Infantry Battalion, which had been manning a patrol base in Barangay Bayabao.
Armored personnel carriers and troops were sent to the area, and the military used two helicopters to track down the armed men and conducted air strikes against them.
The military has said the skirmishes turned into a full blown military offensive with troops using artillery, gunships, and armored personnel carriers against the suspected terrorists.
Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf group -- armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles -- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortions in a self-determined fight for an independent province in the Philippines.
It is notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to be paid for their release.