ZAMBOANGA CITY—The Philippine Air Force (PAF) used “smart pilots”—not US satellite-guided “smart bombs”—when it hit an Abu Sayyaf lair in Parang, Sulu province, on February 2 and killed a bandit leader, Gumbahali Jumdail, and other terrorists, a PAF general insisted Thursday.
Major General Jose Tony Villarete, commander of the 3rd Air Division based in Zamboanga City, was reacting to an Associated Press report which said the PAF used satellite-guided bombs—a previously unavailable technology acquired from the United States in blasting the Abu Sayyaf hideout.
Villarete told the Philippine Daily Inquirer he felt insulted by the report that “attributes such a victory to American soldiers … It appears we had no capability to strike using our existing hardware.”
Villarete said: “Everyone knows how old our aircraft are, like the OV-10s. What we employed were smart pilots, four smart pilots using old aircraft.”
Please credit Air Force
Even if smart bomb technology was made available to the PAF, Villarete said “it was impossible to attach guided missiles to aging aircraft.”
“No such smart bombs, just smart pilots, please credit our Air Force,” he said.
Villarete admitted that the pilots involved in the strike underwent training with US forces here.
“And we will always place all our pilots under training with the US, we have been training them before, now and in the future,” he added.
The Western Mindanao Command chief, Major General Noel Coballes, also denied the AP report.
He said what the military used in the strikes were two OV-10 aircraft loaded with 500-pound bombs.
“I may have not seen how the bombs were attached but I was informed about it,” Coballes said.
He said the bombing run was the result of weeks of planning.
Two weeks before the operation “code-named Oplan Nemesis” was launched, the pilots that carried it out were trained by US forces on “how to use the said aircraft in a manner that they can deliver a successful air strike at dawn,” he said.
Coballes said part of the training module was how to effectively set off bombs to cause more damage.
Senior Superintendent Antonio Freyra, Sulu police chief, said that when police investigators went to the area hit by the bombs a few hours after the strikes, they saw a “clean hit.”
“The destruction was so great that I asked myself if smart bombs were not used in the attack,” Freyra said by phone. He said the explosions left no crater “so I also suspected that a new technology was used.”
He said he was later told the bombs were set off in mid air.
Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command, said they expected issues such as this to be raised, especially by skeptics.
“Basically, what we had was a reliable asset, timely intelligence, deliberate planning and well-trained pilots,” he said.