US Embassy denies US soldier was killed in Mamasapano clash
MANILA, Philippines – The US Embassy in Manila has denied that a US soldier was killed during a Philippine police operation in Maguindanao province more than a week ago.
Bayan Rep. Neri Colmenares on Sunday said a witness, a farmer in Tukalanipao, had reported seeing the body of a Caucasian soldier among the dead in the 12-hour gun battle between Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (SAF) commandos and guerrillas from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao, on Jan. 25.
But Kurt Hoyer, spokesperson for the US Embassy, denied the report.
“There were no US service member casualties,” Hoyer said in a text message late Sunday.
Earlier, Hoyer told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that US participation in the SAF operation to capture two terrorists had been limited to responding to the call of the Armed Forces of the Philippines for help in the evacuation of the dead and wounded after the operation.
“At the request of the AFP, US service members serving in JSOTF-P responded to assist in the evacuation of dead and wounded after the fire fight in Maguindanao,” Hoyer said.
Forty-four SAF commandos were killed in the 12-hour gun battle.
One of the targeted terrorists, Malaysian bomb expert Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” was killed by the commandos. But the other, Basit Usman, a local terrorist, escaped.
Marwan was on the US list of most wanted terrorists, with a $6-million price on his head. The United States is also offering a $3-million reward for the capture, dead or alive, of Usman.
A week after the bloody incident, life in Mamasapano has started to return to normal.
Mamasapano Mayor Benzar Ampatuan said residents had resumed working on their farms and trading at the village proper in Tukanalipao, the center of the fighting.
“We also have not monitored any movement from the military or the rebels. It’s back to normal here now,” Ampatuan told the Inquirer on the phone.
The region’s social welfare office reported last week that four civilians were killed in the crossfire.
Ampatuan said the civilian fatalities and four others who were injured “were trapped at the height of the fire fight and were hit by stray bullets.”
Resident Sarah Langalan reported last week that her husband, Badrudin, was killed by SAF forces.
“He was heading to the village proper when he was seen by policemen along the way. He was forcibly taken and then they tied his hands,” Sarah said.
“They executed my husband so he could not tell others about their presence that time,” she said.
Both the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police are investigating the Mamasapano carnage.
Meanwhile, the government is beefing up its forces in the region for possible retaliation following the death of Marwan, a bombmaker for the BIFF.
“Marwan had been in the country for years. He [trained] many people who now have the capacity to making improvised explosive devices,” said Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson for the military’s 6th Infantry Division.
The BIFF said, however, that it found it strange that the government feared retaliation.
“If they fear retaliation, we are also equally apprehensive that our communities will be attacked by government forces after the Special Action Force suffered heavy casualties in Mamasapano,” said BIFF spokesperson Abu Misri Mama.
That was one of the reasons the BIFF alerted all of its fighting forces to be vigilant against “intrusion” into their communities, Mama said.
“We ordered our members to be always ready to defend their land and families,” he added.
Recently, rebels were reported massing up in several towns in Maguindanao after government forces increased their visibility, sending in tanks and setting up checkpoints.
A military source said bomb attacks might be launched to create the impression that the rebels were not affected by the loss of Marwan. With reports from Jeoffrey Maitem and Karlos Manlupig, Inquirer Mindanao
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.