Human rights group claims body of American retrieved from clash site
A “blue-eyed” Caucasian believed to be an American soldier was reportedly among those killed in the deadly gunbattle between elite policemen and members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on January 25 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province.
Suara Bangsamoro, a Muslim human rights group, quoted witnesses as saying that at least one “white” soldier was recovered after the duel. It said the witness, a 40-year-old farmer, was even able to touch the nose of the dead serviceman.
Suara spokesman Jerome Succor Aba said they were able to interview the farmer in Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano. The witness said he saw the body of the American minutes after the encounter that led to the deaths of at least 44 members of the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Aba declined to reveal the name of the witness for security reasons.
“They (civilian residents of Barangay Tukanalipao) were the first ones to arrive in one of the two areas where the encounter happened,” he said in a report carried by Pinoy Weekly Online.
Aba added that civilians arrived in the area after troops of the MILF withdrew to the Islamic Center in Sitio Inubog, Barangay Pembalkan, also in Mamasapano.
On Sunday, however, an official who is privy to ongoing investigation by the Board of Inquiry designated to probe the incident belied claims that an American was among those killed in the massacre.
“They could be dreaming. I was there for four days and no such story surfaced. Civilians were the first to arrive in the area. Don’t you think not one of them would have thought of taking a photo or a video of any American there? That is not true,” the source, a ranking police officer, told The Manila Times.
The SAF operation was believed guided by US troops who reportedly provided vital intelligence to the elite police unit. The US military was reported to have deployed a drone that allowed American Special Forces to monitor in real time the situation on the ground and allegedly provided Filipino commandos with information about the hideout of Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, leader of the Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia or the Malaysian Mujahideen Movement allied with Jemaah Islamiyah.
It was unknown if President Benigno Aquino 3rd was aware of the US military role in the hunt for Zulkifli, who was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List and Washington offered $5 million bounty for his capture—dead or alive.
US troops were also spotted in Maguindanao evacuating wounded SAF commandos from Mamasapano town. No security officials have come up in the open to talk about the role of US military in the clandestine operation.
The MILF said 18 of its members were killed and over a dozen wounded in the fighting that government and the former rebel group called a “misencounter.”
Meanwhile, the farmer as well as other civilians who arrived in the area said they saw one particular helicopter, among others that shortly arrived in the area, hover over the bodies to carry “specific casualties.”
The witnesses were not able to identify to which specific military units the bodies of the supposed US troops belonged.
The US Embassy in Manila had said the American soldiers in Mamasapano were there to “assist in evacuating the dead and wounded” and were not directly involved in the operation, it was reported.