Philippine troops backed by artillery and assault helicopters have clashed with about 300 Abu Sayyaf rebels in fighting that left two soldiers and five militants dead.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc says 16 other soldiers were wounded in the daylong fighting Wednesday in a jungle near mountainous Patikul town in southern Sulu province, where the large number of Abu Sayyaf gunmen had gathered.

Cabunoc says at least 16 militants were wounded.

The Abu Sayyaf gunmen, led by commander Hatib Sawadjaan, have been blamed for ransom kidnappings, including of two German tourists who were freed in October after six months of jungle captivity.

The Abu Sayyaf, a loose grouping of about 400 mostly poor rural fighters, is on a U.S. list of terrorist organizations.