‘US military involved in Exodus’

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The United States’ involvement in Operation Exodus was described in detail by sacked Special Action Force (SAF) commander Director Getulio Napeñas during an executive session at the Senate yesterday.

Napeñas reportedly told the senators that a US surveillance plane tracked Malaysian bomb expert Zulkifli bin Hir to his hideout in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. The terrorist was killed in a raid by SAF commandos last Jan. 25.

On their way out of the village after killing Marwan, the commandos encountered guerrillas belonging to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). The clash left dozens dead, including 44 SAF men.

Senators grilled Napeñas in an executive session for about four hours. Resigned Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima and current Intelligence Group director Chief Superintendent Fernando Mendez were not able to speak due to lack of time and were asked to return today for another executive session.

Sen. Grace Poe assured the public that the Senate would be transparent on issues which may be shared with the public.

“I think it was very productive. We were able to learn a lot of things, and we confirmed the things we already knew,” Poe said after the executive session at the senators’ lounge. At least 12 senators were in the session.

Poe said many areas of concern were discussed and clarified by Napeñas, who has owned up to accountability over the Mamasapano incident.

It was the 84th Seaborne Company led by Supt. Raymond Train who led the assault on the hut of Marwan, while the 36-member 55th Special Action Company was supposedly the blocking force.

Asked for confirmation on the US role in the operations, Poe maintained she cannot spell out the details until “we have come up with a consensus on which topics can be made available.”

“It was free and honest. I felt our resource person was much more comfortable,” said Poe, who also did not say whether Napeñas had spilled the beans on other officials.

In a Senate inquiry last week, Napeñas admitted seeking the help of American forces – but supposedly only for the recovery of injured SAF operatives.

After the incident, US soldiers participating in joint exercises in Mindanao were seen on television assisting local police and the military in retrieving corpses.

Sources from the intelligence community told The STAR that the US participation could be limited to intelligence buildup. “Most probably technical intelligence,” the source said, refusing to reveal more due to the sensitivity of the matter.

During public hearings last week, Napeñas also said he was ready to divulge information during executive session on the severed index finger of Marwan, which had been turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for DNA testing.

Poe said she believed Napeñas was able to freely reveal details of the operation because of the senators’ commitment to treat the information he would share with extreme care.

“For one, we didn’t actually time, more than five minutes were given to answer the questions. It was more informal, the exchanges were more random. We went into many details because we only had one resource person. We told him to narrate many different things,” she said.

Poe added that the important details mentioned about the operations would be made available as soon as possible.

Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano was also mum on Napeñas’ revelations but cited court records revealing an exchange between Marwan and his brother who is detained in California.

Marwan had kept Rahmat Andhir informed of the situation in the Philippines, even providing reports of clashes between government forces and groups supposedly protecting him, including the MILF.

Citing records from the US district court of Northern California, Cayetano stressed that Marwan had told his brother about the involvement of the US in these conflicts through the use of Orion spy planes and Predator drones.

Cayetano presented to the media the court records on the charges filed against Marwan’s brother for two counts of conspiracy to provide/providing material support to terrorists; contributing goods and services to a specially designated global terrorist and material false statements.

Earlier yesterday, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said he sees nothing wrong with intelligence information sharing between the Philippines and the US.

“We welcome intelligence sharing, because we alone are not capable of having such information,” Trillanes said.

DOJ probe

Meanwhile, the alleged involvement of the US in the Mamasapano operation of the SAF would be included in the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into the incident.

In an interview with reporters, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said investigating the issue would be “inevitable” as reports of US involvement persist.

“Definitely, that (US involvement) would be unavoidable to look into… There are several aspects – including that alleged involvement of the US and the extent and scope of involvement as reported in some news items,” she stressed.

The Constitution prohibits foreign troops from engaging in combat operations within the country.

But De Lima stressed the issue was not a priority of the DOJ in determining who would be held criminally liable for the incident.

“But it really depends, if it has any bearing on the criminal aspect of the matter,” she pointed out.

Another “peripheral” issue, according to De Lima, is the claim of an American working as a “political consultant” in California to the $5-million reward for the capture of Marwan.

“Those peripheral matters such as the issues on reward, the basis for the reward and who should claim it – I consider them right now as peripheral matters, which at the moment are outside the scope of our investigation,” she explained.

The STAR reported that one Marcus Allen Frishman was demanding that he be given the reward, saying information he had provided the US State Department helped authorities track down Marwan.

De Lima reiterated that a DOJ investigative team led by Assistant State Prosecutors Juan Paulo Navera would focus on the criminal aspect of the incident, including appropriate criminal charges to be filed.

In a related development, De Lima bared that the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has identified the source of the video reportedly taken during the clash by one of the MILF rebels that went viral on social networking sites.

“NBI has already identified where the video came from and who uploaded it,” De Lima confirmed.

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., meanwhile, defended Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles from accusations that she wanted the investigation into the Mamasapano incident to result in a “whitewash.”

In a statement, Marcos confirmed that Deles visited him on Jan. 26 but only to brief him of developments and discussed the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

“There could not even be any suggestion of a whitewash because there was no investigation yet at that time,” Marcos added. – Edu Punay, Jose Rodel Clapano


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