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article imageOp-Ed: Philippine commando attack on rebels kills more than 30 commandos

By Ken Hanly     Jan 25, 2015 in World
Manila - A local official claimed that over 30 Philippine National Police Special Action Force(SAF) commandos were killed when they clashed with fighters from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as they were attempting to arrest a bombing suspect.
Tahirudin Ampatuan, mayor of the town of Mamasapano said that dozens of the elite Philippine National Police Special Action Force entered a village at dawn Sunday to try to capture the bombing suspect. The fight with the MILF members was said to have lasted 12 hours. In March of last year the government brokered a peace deal after nearly a half century of conflict that killed over a hundred thousand people. The MILF members are to disarm in return for more autonomy in Muslim areas.
The Special Action Forces(SAF) are an elite group some of whom are counter-terror commandos: The Special Action Force is the National Mobile Unit of the Philippine National Police. It is formed along the lines of the British Army (SAS) Special Air Service, but with different recruitment and selection procedures.[2][3] The SAF, over the years, has received training from the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) and Critical Incident Response Group, RAID and YAMAM.[2][3] The Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU) of the PNP-SAF is responsible for nationwide Police Counter-terrorism (CT) operations nationwide.
These commandos were special forces used for counter-terrorism operations. It is not clear how closely this group works with the US that often trains and advises Philippine units in counter-terrorism operations. The target of the raid was apparently Zulkifli bin Hir, known as Marwan, thought to be behind several deadly bombings in the Philippines. The FBI has offered a $5 million dollar reward for information on Marwan.
The commandos did not coordinate their action with local authorities nor with armed forces units in the area. The result was that the commandos were surrounded and slaughtered by two different groups of rebels. The bomber suspect may have been under the protection of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters(BIFF) but the commandos raided the home of a commander of the MILF in error apparently. The commander's forces immediately began battle against the commandos and were joined by BIFF fighters. BIFF recently rejoined the Moro National Liberation Front(MNLF) from which the MILF had split. Here is what apparently happened: Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters spokesperson Abu Misry Mama said the firefight started when police attempted to raid the suspected hideout of Basit Usman that was actually the house of a certain Ustadz Manan, a sub-commander of MILF 105th base command under Zacaria Goma.
In other words, in the middle of the night these forces raid the house of a commander with whom the government has a peace agreement and without informing the area Philippine armed forces or local authorities of what was happening. The MILF chief negotiator, Mohagher Iqbal, said the clash was the result of lack of coordination: “There was no coordination,(nasagasaan din nila ang tropa namin) and they also engaged our troops nearby aside from the BIFF, that how started the bloody war today."
BIFF spokesperson Mama also said: “When the firefight broke out, our troops engaged the invading troops until we surrounded them in Barangay Manggapang, Mamasapano town. At the moment, we have surrounded remaining government troops in Barangay Manggapang and, any time, we will strike." Meanwhile, Col Gener Del Rosario of the Army 1st Mechanized Brigade had deployed tanks along a highway nearby but did not fire or engage because of fear of hitting civilians or the commandos. Rosario said: “We have no communication with the SAF in the area inside. At first, there was no coordination with us” The 6th Army Infantry Division also said that there was no coordination with the SAF.
The intervention of the Joint International Monitoring Team and joint MILF-Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities helped calm the situation down and allowed soldiers to remove some of the bodies of dead police officers. Reuters citing local officials in Mamasapana said 27 police officers and 5 rebels were killed but 7 more officers were unaccounted for and 8 more were captured by rebels. Army sources said the death toll could reach 50 people, most police, but also rebels and civilians. The raid threatens the entire peace process.The lack of coordination or even forethought of what such a raid could mean to the peace process shows that the war on terror runs on rules of its own without regard to the broader consequences.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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