MANILA -– The Department of Foreign Affairs(DFA) on Tuesday maintained that US military troops did not have a combat role in a covert counter-terrorism mission in Mamasapano, Maguindanao where 44 elite commandos were killed.
DFA spokesman Charles Jose said the US military personnel of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines merely responded to the request of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to provide assistance on the evacuation of the Special Action Force troopers, who were killed and injured in a deadly clash with Muslim insurgents while trying to arrest two wanted terrorists more than a week ago.
JSOTF-P, Jose explained, “serve in advisory and assistance capacities and are not involved in actual combat operations.”
Earlier reports said an American soldier was killed in the operation, which aims to capture Malaysian bomb-maker Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and Basit Usman, who were hiding in a Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) stronghold.
“I don’t think there is truth to that though we have no report, but I can’t imagine something like that will happen,” Jose said.
Since 2002, hundreds of US special forces have been deployed and scattered in the Zamboanga Peninsula and nearby islands of Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and Central Mindanao on a rotation basis to provide combat training and weapons to the Philippine military fighting extremist groups, blamed for the country’s worst terrorist attacks.
“US forces conduct bilateral training activities between Philippine security forces within the ambit of the Mutual Defense Board, Security Engagement Board and the Visiting Forces Agreement,” Jose said.