No US participation in Exodus — Goldberg
Aie Balagtas See, Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) - March 19, 2015 - 1:00am

MANILA, Philippines - US forces did not participate in the operation to capture top terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir or Marwan in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg reiterated.

“We weren’t involved in the planning, we weren’t involved in the execution,” Goldberg told The STAR the other night, referring to the Jan. 25 operation code-named Exodus.

Goldberg gave the statement hours after the Senate released its report on the Mamasapano raid that neutralized Marwan but also led to the massacre of 44 police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos.

The ambassador confirmed that Marwan was killed in the operation, based on DNA tests conducted by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario also said he was standing by his statement that Exodus was a “100 percent” Philippine operation.

Del Rosario told The STAR that the Americans seen assisting in bringing wounded SAF to safety did not engage in combat but were part of a medical evacuation team. He also said there were no US drones monitoring Exodus.

About six Americans reportedly at the command center with the SAF chief at the time, Director Getulio Napeñas, during Exodus were private contractors, Del Rosario also said.

A report in The Washington Post said US “contract personnel” helped evacuate SAF casualties. The report also quoted a Pentagon spokesman, Marine Lt. Col. Jeffrey Pool, as saying the operation “was planned and executed by Philippine authorities.”

Pool confirmed in an e-mail sent to the paper that American “contract personnel” assigned to a US counterterrorism task force had helped evacuate SAF casualties on Jan. 25.

The paper quoted State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki as echoing Pool’s statement that the SAF mission to capture three suspected terrorists wanted by the Philippine and US governments was “planned and carried out by Philippine authorities.”

The Post story is about the results of the Senate investigation into Exodus.

Rep. Carlos Zarate, who alerted The STAR to the story, said by “contract personnel,” Pool was referring to military contractors who are former US servicemen hired principally by the Department of Defense and State Department to protect diplomats, diplomatic posts and supply runs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He recalled a 2007 incident in Baghdad wherein US military contractors belonging to security firm Blackwater who were guarding American diplomats were involved in a firefight that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead.

A US jury has convicted three Blackwater personnel of manslaughter in connection with the case. The security firm has since changed its name.

Zarate said the US engaged military contractors in Mamasapano apparently to skirt the two countries’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and evade responsibility in case contracted personnel engage in illegal activities.

He said the VFA requires that participants in joint military exercises here should be US organic military personnel.

Zarate said the government should investigate the use of military contractors and their accountability and that of US agencies that hire them.

The Washington Post report said the result of the Senate inquiry “contradicts past statements from US officials that Americans played no role in the operation except to help evacuate wounded Philippine police officers from a prolonged gun battle with Islamist rebels on the island of Mindanao.”

Sen. Grace Poe, who presided over the Senate probe, said the SAF raid “was not 100 percent Filipino planned and implemented” based on the testimony of Napeñas, who admitted the role played by the Americans in Mamasapano.

“They provided equipment, training and intelligence,” she said.

She identified one of the Americans who worked with Napeñas as a certain Al Katz.

Goldberg said providing equipment and training to Philippine troops was part of the mandate of US forces when they were invited by the Philippine government to return to the country in 2002 amid an Abu Sayyaf kidnapping spree. Goldberg declined to discuss intelligence operations or go into details.

Hundreds of US forces have since been stationed on rotation in Zamboanga City under the US Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines. JSOTF-P was dismantled several weeks ago, as scheduled.

Supt. Michael John Mangahis, in a sworn statement given to the police Board of Inquiry (BOI), said he saw six Americans in Napeñas’ command post on the night of Jan. 24.

The following day, Mangahis said he saw the same Americans, with their own helicopter, helping evacuate wounded SAF troopers.

The Americans provided “real-time information on the actual movements of friendly and enemy forces,” the BOI report said.

It said the information enabled the team that assaulted Marwan’s hideout to elude large formations of Muslim guerrillas, avoiding further casualties.

Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang meanwhile confirmed the indirect involvement of Americans in Mamasapano.

Catapang said that one of the six Americans involved in Oplan Exodus had asked Army 6th Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan to provide artillery support to the embattled SAF commandos.

Pangilinan, however, rebuffed the American in the absence of the needed grid coordinates.

The Americans’ involvement in Exodus was confined to providing surveillance through television monitors at the Army Brigade headquarters in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao.

Who killed whom?

Meanwhile, at the National Bureau of Investigation, establishing “who killed whom” in the Mamasapano clash is one of the biggest challenges in an ongoing NBI probe, a source said.

The source, who is privy to the probe, said agents want to establish the exact participation of those involved.

“It will not be easy. It would be challenging to identify and establish who killed whom,” the source said, adding that Muslim rebels and civilians were also killed.

The NBI is encouraging families of the slain SAF and civilians to formally file complaints.

“They can come here any time. This is part of the thrust to show both sides that we are going to be fair,” the source said.

A five-year-old girl, a farmer who was about to go to the market and four men sleeping in a mosque were among those killed.

In a recent site inspection in Mamasapano, NBI agents learned that there was no mobile phone signal within “the box” where most of the SAF members were killed by gunmen of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and a private armed group. – With Jaime Laude

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