A Philippine military commander says five soldiers and four Abu Sayyaf militants have died in a firefight in a southern province where government forces have been hunting down rebels behind the kidnappings of several foreigners and Filipinos.

Army Col. Allan Arrojado says at least 26 other soldiers were wounded in the clash Friday in Sulu province's mountainous Talipao town. He says the fighting has eased by nightfall and government forces are pursuing about 300 militants, who split into smaller groups and withdrew.

President Benigno Aquino III has ordered the military to crack down on the militants after they freed two German tourists on Oct. 17 reportedly after a huge ransom payment. The militants are holding several other hostages in Sulu's dense jungles, including two European birdwatchers seized two years ago.