No American soldier died or was injured in a deadly clash in Maguindanao that killed 44 elite Philippine policemen, the US Embassy in Manila said on Monday.
“There were no US service member casualties,” Kurt Hoyer, US Embassy spokesman said in a text message to The Manila Times.
Hoyer was reacting to a report of a human rights group that an American serviceman was among the casualties in the January 25 clash between members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
Suara Bangsamoro, a Muslim human rights group, cited the statement of a farmer who claimed to have seen at least one “white” soldier after the clash.
The US Embassy earlier clarified that American soldiers were in Mamasapano to “assist in evacuating the dead and wounded,” and that they were not involved in the operation to get two terrorists.
The Department of National Defense (DND) also denied allegations that American soldiers were involved in the daring operation by the SAF.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said US forces are prohibited by law from interfering in local conflicts or joining any police or military operation, except in joint land, air or naval training, like the annual Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) exercises.
“They are not allowed to join in operations, but we asked for their help because they have all the assets to provide the medical evacuation,” Gazmin added.
After the Mamasapano incident, a US chopper was photographed loading some of the dead and wounded SAF members.
But Rep. Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna said witnesses who claimed to have seen the body of an American soldier after the Maguindanao clash should attend an investigation to be conducted by the House of Representatives.
Colmenares and Rep. Carlos Zarate, also of Bayan Muna, sought a thorough probe “to get to the truth.”
“I know for a fact that Jerome Succor Aba, spokesperson of Suara Bangsamoro, said they were able to interview a 40-year-old farmer in Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, and was also relayed to Pinoy Weekly. The witness said he saw at least ‘one body of a Caucasian soldier’ minutes after the deadly encounter. In fact, the witness said that he even touched the nose of the dead Caucasian soldier,” Zarate said.
“I hope to get the witness to testify during the investigation,” he added.
Colmenares said they would also ask the House to summon officials of the US Embassy in Manila.
“[W]e hope the embassy will not use its diplomatic immunity and answer questions as to its role in the bloody operation,” he added.
Not the first time
It was not the first time, however, that US servicemen were reported to have been involved in a local military operation against state enemies.
In May 2013, it was reported that a group of American soldiers were with Filipino troops when they were ambushed by the Abu Sayyaf Group in Al Barka, Basilan.
Col. Carlito Galvez, commander of the 104th Brigade, denied that Americans joined in the firefight.
When members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) stormed Zamboanga City in 2012, it was also reported that American soldiers assigned with the Joint Special Operation Task Force based in Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City joined the police and the military in flushing out MNLF men who occupied at least five coastal villages.
But the report was also denied by then-military spokesman Maj. Gen. Domingo Tutaan Jr.
Earlier, WikiLeaks also released a classified US information showing that two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents were embedded with the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines in Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City.
It said the FBI agents made significant contribution to counter-terrorism efforts.
“FBI deployment with JSOTF-P is an innovative concept that puts US law enforcement officers where they need to collect vital evidence on terrorists who target US interests. We urge that this program be continued,” the report added.
WITH REINA TOLENTINO