A group of American and Filipino troops was ambushed by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Al Barka, Basilan on Monday. Two Filipino soldiers were killed while four others were wounded.
Col. Carlito Galvez, commander of the 104th Brigade, reported the incident on Tuesday but he pointed out that the Americans did not join the melee and immediately withdrew after the initial volley of gunfire.
“There were no Americans involved (in the firefight) because they immediately withdrew after they heard the gun shots,” Galvez said.
He said the Americans are prohibited by law to interfere in local conflicts, adding “our SOP (standard operating procedure) if there is such an engagement is to immediately extricate the Americans.”
He explained that the Americans were the donors of the 20 goats and other livestock that the Filipino troops were supposed to distribute in Barangay Magcawa, Albarka, the site of the ambush incident.
“They were the donors. They wanted some projects because they have projects from the Usaid (United States Agency for International Development). They call it the minimal cost project,” Galvez said.
“But what is important here was that no American soldiers were involved in the encounter. They were just donors,” he further said.
Aside from the American soldiers, two representatives from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (Opapp) were also in the group.
Galvez said the Filipino and American soldiers were in a convoy of seven vehicles that include a Simba armored personnel carrier. However, they met mortar sniper fire before they could reach their destination.
The encounter, which took place at around 2 p.m. on Monday and lasted for about three hours, killed Major Alin Kannung and Technical Sgt. Ferdinand Costan.
The military, on the otherhand, claimed that there were six casualties on the ASG side without explaining how they were able to come out with the figure.
Under normal circumstances, Galvez said, a massive pursuit operations should have been launched against the perpetrators but they could not do so as their hands were tied because the ASG, assisted by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) of Commander Umbra Kato, entered a Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) territory.
He said they have to coordinate first with the MILF before launching pursuit operations so as not be accused of violating the ceasefire agreement.
“We can’t just run after them, there must be coordination with the MILF. We cannot operate unilaterally because we don’t want to sacrifice the supremacy of the peace process,” Galvez added.
On October 20, 2011, government forces were also ambushed in Al Barka by rogue elements of the MILF, led by Commander Dan Laksaw Aswani, that left 19 Army officers and soldiers dead and injured 14 others.
The soldiers were out to serve a warrant against Aswani for various crimes, including the 2007 beheading of 14 Marines that also happened in Al Barka.
Aswani has yet to be arrested and none of his men had been brought to justice for the death of the 19 soldiers.
William B. Depasupil