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Aquino tells MILF: Get out of the way

AFP, PNP get orders to launch drive against Usman
By: - Reporter / @NikkoDizonINQ
/ 01:51 AM January 31, 2015
President Benigno S. Aquino III offers a moment of silent prayer before the remains of the fallen Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) Troopers during the Necrological Service at the NCRPO Multi-Purpose Center of Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City on Friday (January 30, 2015). (Photo by Marcelino Pascua / Malacañang Photo Bureau / PCOO)

President Benigno S. Aquino III offers a moment of silent prayer before the remains of the fallen Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) Troopers during the Necrological Service at the NCRPO Multi-Purpose Center of Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City on Friday (January 30, 2015). MARCELINO PASCUA /Malacañang Photo Bureau

Aquino to MILF: Clear the way.

This was the message sent by President Benigno Aquino III to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief peace negotiator as government security forces moved to intensify the hunt for Afghan-trained terrorist Abdul Basit Usman.

The Inquirer learned from a well-placed source that Mr. Aquino sent the message to Mohagher Iqbal through Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles shortly after 44 elite police commandos were killed in a clash with Moro guerrillas in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province, on Sunday.

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In his message to Iqbal, the President asked for three things: For the MILF to surrender Usman if some of its fighters were coddling him; to help the government get Usman; and for MILF base commands to clear the way for government security forces to operate and get Usman.

Get out of the way

“The President’s message, basically, asked the MILF to get out of the way to allow the military and the police to get this deadly terrorist,” said the Inquirer source, a senior government official who requested anonymity for lack of authority to speak to the media.

Usman escaped from the Special Action Force (SAF) commandos who raided the hideout he shared with Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” in Barangay Pidsandawan, a remote village in Mamasapano, early on Sunday.

Secondary target

Usman was the secondary target of the police operation. The primary target, Marwan, was killed but the SAF commandos lost 44 of their own when they were attacked by Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and MILF guerrillas as they withdrew from the village. It was the highest death toll in a single encounter in the recent history of the country’s security forces.

The President’s message to Iqbal was apparently intended to avoid a repeat of the Mamasapano debacle, which would have been considered a success because the SAF commandos were able to take down Marwan, a member of the Central Command of the Indonesia-based terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah and who was behind a number of deadly bombings in the country and other parts of the world.

Marwan, a bomb expert, was on the list of most-wanted terrorists of the US government and had a $6-million price on his head.

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Police Director Getulio Napeñas, the SAF commander, was relieved pending investigation of the disastrous operation.

No coordination

He admitted that the operation to get Marwan and Usman was deliberately not coordinated with the military and the MILF, which are observing a ceasefire following the signing of a peace agreement.

Napeñas said the MILF 105th, 106th and 118th base commands were all in Mamasapano. He said he did not coordinate with the MILF because he did not trust the group.

The peace process has put in place coordinating systems such as a joint action committee and a ceasefire committee precisely to keep government security forces and the MILF guerrillas from fighting.

Hostile artillery

But without coordination with the military and the MILF, the SAF commandos went into hostile territory.

As the SAF commandos pulled out of their first encounter site in Pidsandawan, where they killed Marwan, they inadvertently ventured into Barangay Tukanalipao, some 3 kilometers away, where there were MILF guerrillas.

Iqbal and an Inquirer source separately said that it was the SAF commandos who fired the first shot, triggering a gun battle where the policemen were outnumbered and found themselves contained in an open cornfield.

The deaths of the 44 SAF commandos triggered nationwide anger, with some sectors calling for the junking of the peace agreement.

Purisima called shots

The outrage was stoked by President Aquino’s admission that he had been consulting with Director General Alan Purisima, a close friend, on the “intricacies” of the operation against Marwan and Usman even though the Philippine National Police chief remained suspended over graft charges.

Napeñas said it was Purisima who called the shots in the Mamasapano operation.

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TAGS: Abdul Basit Usman, alias “Marwan, Aquino, Benigno Aquino, Maguindanao, Mamasapano, MILF, Terrorism, Usman, Zulkifli bin Hir
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