No smart bombs, just smart pilots in Sulu raid, says local military commander
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines—The military did not use “smart bomb” technology in the February 2 air strike in Parang, Sulu, that supposedly killed Malaysian terror suspect Zulkifli Bin Hir and several others, including Abu Sayyaf leader Gumbahali Jumdail.
Major General Jose Tony Villarete, commander of the 3rd Air Division here, the unit that carried out the air raid, said that what he had were “smart pilots” who hit their targets and inflicted the desired damage.
The Associated Press reported earlier that four senior Philippine security officials had confirmed to it that smart bombs were used in the Sulu raid and that the use of such weapons marked a new chapter in the long-running battle against an al-Qaida-linked movement in the southern Philippines.
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 air strike, what they saw was 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 no crater was left by the explosion, “so I also suspected that a new technology was used.”
But Major General Jose Tony Villarete, the 3rd Air Division chief, said he felt insulted by a report that “attributes such victory to American soldiers.”
“It appears we had no capability to strike using our existing hardware,” he said. “”Everyone knows how old our aircraft are, like the OV10s. What we have employed were smart pilots, four smart pilots using old aircraft.”
Even if smart bombs were made available to the Philippine Air Force, 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 added.
Villarete admitted that the pilots involved in the air strike underwent training with US forces here, “and we will always place all our pilots under training with US; we have been training them before, now and in the future.”
Western Mindanao Command chief Major General Noel Coballes also denied that smart bombs were used.
He said what the military used in the Parang air strikes were two OV10 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 precise bomb run was the result of weeks of planning.
Two weeks before the operation, codenamed “Oplan Nemesis,” was launched, the pilots that carried it out were placed under training 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 included the training included how to set off bombs more effectively to cause more damage.
Freyra said he was later told that the bombs were set-off in mid-air.
Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang, spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command, said they had 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.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.