AFP investigates ‘operational lapses’ in Basilan clash
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines—The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) started an investigation into what it said could be operational lapses in Tuesday’s encounter in Al-Barka, Basilan, during which 25 people – 19 of them soldiers and junior officers – were killed.
As this developed, two of the 10 soldiers reported missing had been found alive, albeit wounded, the Task Force Basilan commander, Colonel Alexander Macario, confirmed.
Macario said Scout Ranger soldiers separately found the two – whom he did not identify – near Barangay Cambug on Wednesday and Thursday
Also on Wednesday, the bodies of six missing soldiers were also recovered by Al-Barka police authorities – which brought the total military death toll to 19.
Lieutenant General Ireneo Espino, the AFP Inspector General, said the investigation would zero in on the reported operational lapse in the Al-Barka clash.
“That is what we are going to see and investigate,” he said.
Espino, who arrived here in time for the funeral honors for the slain soldiers, said the result of the investigation would be made public.
Earlier, Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang said some of the soldiers sent to Al-Barka were strangers to the place, having been plucked out of their scuba diving training.
The soldiers, whom the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), had encountered, were ordered to hunt down local rebel leader Dan Asnawi, who was involved in the 2007 mutilation and beheading of Marine soldiers in Al-Barka, Cabangbang said.
Asnawi had been arrested in the aftermath of the 2007 massacre but managed to bolt out of the Basilan provincial jail, along with more than two dozen other inmates, in December 2009.
Cabangbang said that in Tuesday’s operation, the Special Forces soldiers had problem with the terrain.
A military report showed that four teams under the 4th Special Forces Battalion were deployed to Cambug to conduct a “strike and withdraw operation.”
Cabangbang said of the 41 soldiers, who joined the operation, about 20 were plucked out of their scuba diving training.
He said some of the soldiers were not familiar with the terrain at all.
Some of the soldiers were first timers in Al-Barka, other military sources had categorically said.
Private First Class Arnel Balili, a survivor of the Al-Barka clash, also confirmed to the Philippine Daily Inquirer that many of his companions – including those slain – had not been assigned to Al-Barka before.
“It just so happened that the unit needed warm bodies and that that force was available at that time,” Cabangbang said.
Cabangbang also said the military was not discounting the possibility that the MILF rebels were reinforced by armed locals.
“We cannot discount the possibility that relatives and neighbors joined the firefight,” he said.
But Cabangbang said if locals had indeed joined the fray, they were most likely after the guns, “not because they were mad at the soldiers but because they wanted to get the firearms.”
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