US hand in SAF tragedy confirmed

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo - The Philippine Star

Indeed the Americans did it.

They planned, funded, and closely monitored the execution of “Operation Wolverine/Exodus” carried out last Jan. 25 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao by the PNP Special Action Force they had trained and equipped.

The objective was to arrest or kill Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir alias “Marwan” and his alleged local bomb-making associate, Abdul Basit Usman. The US government had offered a $5-million bounty for Marwan and $2 million for Usman.

While the SAF succeeded in killing Marwan (as confirmed by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation), the operation ended in tragedy that has since besieged President Aquino and imperiled the GPH-MILF peace agreement. It has raised a lot of questions and a strong demand for an independent, impartial investigation to ferret out the truth and pinpoint accountability for the death of 44 SAF commandos, 18 MILF fighters, and 4 civilians.

 Downplayed in media reports for almost two weeks, the American role has been confirmed by two recent disclosures:

1. A statement issued Wednesday by David Bowdich, assistant director in charge of the FBI in Los Angeles, saying the FBI had “a full partnership” with the PNP which he categorized as “one of the strongest [partnerships]in the world.” He added that the FBI would continue to work with the PNP “to identify, disrupt and dismantle terrorist networks.” 

The statement confirmed, through DNA tests, that Marwan was killed in the Mamasapano operation.

2. A detailed narration by an anonymous source, most probably a PNP official, to another daily, citing the specific places where the Americans drew up “Oplan Wolverine/Exodus” and where they trained the SAF 84th and 55th companies for the operation.

Notable among the disclosures was that the US operatives had taken measures to ensure that the surviving 34 members of the 84th SAC (Company) that raided Marwan’s hideout (they lost 8 commandos) were safely extricated from further harm, but “did not do anything” to help the 36-man 55th SAC, the blocking force that was wiped out (save for one man) in a “mis-encounter” with the MILF fighters.  

Following are some quotations and factual information from the anonymous source who expressed fear for his life and those of “others” should he provide more details. He urged Congress to look deeper into the Mamasapano tragedy.

• “Because of the Americans’ obsession to get Marwan, many SAF men died” was his damning conclusion.  He pointed out that the Americans focused only on securing the 84th SAC “because (the latter) ha(d) what they want(ed) – Marwan’s tissue sample.” 

• The Americans used a drone in monitoring the movements of the 84th SAC. “This is why even if the 84th SAC men were located deeper in the area, only a few were killed. But the 55th SAC lost all but one of its men because no help from the Americans arrived.”

Not disclosed was how the Americans secured the safe retreat of the 34 officers and men of the 84th SAC. Why didn’t they do the same for the 55th SAC? Did they sacrifice the blocking force because intervening in the “mis-encounter” could have imperiled the lives of Americans and exposed their direct involvement in the operation?  

• The AFP wasn’t informed of the operation because four previous operational plans, to which the military were privy, failed to get Marwan. Alleged reason: the operations were to have been in MILF-controlled areas and the AFP coordinated with the MILF (as required under protocols of the GPH-MILF ceasefire and peace agreements). “When the plans were implemented, Marwan escaped.”

• The Americans used a secret facility inside or beside the La Vista del Mar Resort in Zamboanga City, reportedly owned by the family of Rep. Celso Lobregat. However, Lobregat claimed he didn’t know about the facility, which allegedly accommodated a big number of 84th SAC men.

But barangay chair Joel New of Upper Calarian Village, who used to work at the resort, said it was really an SAF camp, where “they do tactical operations training and swimming, including speedboat operations...”  The American trainers would also stay at La Vista, he said. 

• The training program was “no joke, especially for the 55th SAC,” the anonymous source observed, “All their equipment were funded by the Americans.  When they go to Maguindanao, an American, a supervisor of the La Vista facility, goes with them. All the expenses were shouldered by the Americans.”

These disclosures can further be confirmed and followed up through an independent and impartial investigating body, which has yet to be constituted. 

The big question is: Does President Aquino know about these covert activities of the Americans?  If he doesn’t, it’s a big problem. If he does, how has he acted on them?  The issue of his accountability to the nation comes to the fore.  (P-Noy was scheduled to address the nation again on the Mamasapano tragedy yesterday, as this was being written.) 

 “We can’t take this anymore,” the anonymous source confessed after unburdening the load off his chest. “I hope my colleagues would get the justice they deserve.”

Ascertaining the truth and establishing accountability for the Mamasapano tragedy hopefully would pave the way toward attaining justice for all those who demand and deserve it. And that includes all Filipinos, not just the casualties on both sides. 

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