MANILA — While stressing that it did everything it can to succor the beleaguered Special Action Force (SAF) troopers during the Jan. 25 encounter with members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF, Armed Forces chief-of-staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang on Wednesday said that their responding forces were only out to extricate the hard-pressed police officers from the contested area and not engage MILF and BIFF forces in a pitch battle.
“Yes we came there to reinforce them, but the reinforcement was to extricate them not to join the fight with the MILF or BIFF or whatever combat units they were engaged,” Catapang clarified.
He also said that responding military forces had difficulty in penetrating to the area the SAF men were cornered it as they were not aware of the unit’s exact location.
Adding to their difficulty is the fact that the MILF and GPH, under the ongoing peace talks, have agreed to install a mechanism to maintain order and prevent misencounters between soldiers and Muslim militiamen.
However, Catapang did not give details if this mechanism was used during the bloody Jan. 25 battle in Maguindanao.
However, he clarified that the ongoing peace talks with the MILF does not prevent the military from operating.
“What is important here is we have to coordinate (with each other when conducting operations),” the AFP chief stressed.
He also said that certain rules must be followed if the Philippine National Police will operate as part of the joint AFP-PNP force or a single force in the conduct combat operations
This rules are as follows:
-When operating jointly with AFP, tasked PNP units shall be attached or placed under operational control of the AFP with the operational responsibility of the area of operations,
-When operating independently as a single force, PNP units shall take orders from their parent unit but must coordinate with the nearest tactical unit of the AFP to ensure a coordinated and focused operations in a particular area,
-The AFP unit that has operational responsibility over the area of operations shall be furnished by the PNP of the unit’s operational plan and after operations report.
During the SAF operation, an all out military response could have destabilized ongoing peace talks between the two parties.
Forty-four SAF men were killed in the day-long battle which began with the operation to neutralize Malaysian terror bomber Zulkifli bin Hir alias “Marwan.”
The AFP chief also said that in the case of the Maguindanao clash last Jan. 25, there is urgent need of coordination as the area of SAF operation is a known a MILF enclave with camps of the 105th, 106th and 1118th Base Commands along with the BIFF, Moro National Liberation Front and private armed groups.
Participating in the mission were troopers from the 45th, 55th and 84th SAF Companies.
SAF men from the 84th SAF Company were the ones who neutralized Marwan while the 55th and the 45th SAF Companies acted as the escorts of the attacking unit.
Most of the casualties were incurred by the 55th SAF Company who were overwhelmed by MILF and BIFF troops during the course of the day-long fighting.
And had there been coordination, Catapang stressed that they could have given appropriate support which include units of the 45th Infantry Battalion and artillery support from their firebases near the encounter scene.
The AFP chief stressed that records will show that on 9: 20 a.m. of Jan. 25, troops from the 23rd and 14th Mechanized Battalion and 62nd Division Reconnaissance had already linked up with the elements of the SAF positioned at Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano town.
He also said that reinforcing military elements were even fired upon by still unknown groups on their entry, preventing them from immediately linking up with the hard-pressed SAF men.
Wheels of the responding V-150 “Commando” armored personnel carriers were holed as the result.
Catapang also said that supporting military units were only able to construct a “tactical command post” at 2:30 p.m. in the above-mentioned area.
And until that time, the AFP chief added that they have no communications with the SAF troopers.
He said full extraction took place 11:30 p.m. on Jan. 25