BOI: 6 Americans gave ‘real-time’ info to SAF

Bea Cupin
BOI: 6 Americans gave ‘real-time’ info to SAF
(UPDATED) The PNP BOI's report on the Mamasapano clash confirm 6 Americans were at the SAF's tactical command post on January 25

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – “Six American nationals” provided “real-time information” during a police operation on January 25 that claimed the lives of 65, including 44 elite cops, 5 civilians, and 18 Muslim rebels, according to a report by police investigators.

The American nationals, the Philippine National Police (PNP) Board of Inquiry (BOI) said in its report, were at the tactical command post during “Oplan Exodus,” a PNP Special Action Force (SAF)-led operation that targeted bomb makers and terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir (alias “Marwan”) and Abdul Basit Usman.

“The US counterparts provided real-time information on the actual movements of friendly and enemy forces in the area of operations. The US personnel at the tactical command post were able to do this by providing the special technical equipment and aircraft, which they themselves operated,” read the 130-page report.  

The report, however, emphasized that no armed US troops were at the area of operations on January 25. 

Marwan was killed but Usman escaped in what would be the bloodiest one-day operation in PNP history.

Marwan is one of the most wanted terrorists of the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation, which put a US$5 million bounty for his capture. The Philippine government offered P7.4 million for his arrest. (READ: Marwan and the ties that bind)

Usman, on the other hand, has a US$1 million bounty from the US government and a P6.4 million bounty from the Philippine government on his head.

The US was involved even after the operation.

According to sacked PNP SAF commander Police Director Getulio Napeñas, the left index finger of Marwan that was taken for DNA sampling was “sent to two representatives of the US FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) waiting at General Santos City on January 28.”

But this, the BOI report noted, should not have happened. “The standard procedure should have been to turn-over the DNA sample to the PNP Crime Laboratory,” it said. 

Photos of a dead Marwan taken by the SAF assault team were also handed over to the FBI, the PNP, and the Interior Department.

The report, or at least parts of the report shown to media, did not explain why the FBI was already waiting at General Santos City, or what the protocols of the FBI’s involvement post-operation were.

Technical intelligence

But even prior to the bloody police operation, the US “had been providing reliable information about Marwan and Usman… The technical intelligence support also facilitated the formulation and execution of the Oplan Exodus,” said the report, which was submitted to PNP office-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina on Thursday, March 12. (READ: Senate hearings: Was there US involvement in SAF ops?)

Quoting from interviews and the affidavit of Superintendent Michael John Catindig Mangahis from the SAF, the BOI noted that the 6 Americans also “helped in the medical evacuation of the besieged and wounded SAF Commandos.”

Mangahis also said the “pilots of the helicopter who helped in evacuating wounded personnel to the hospital” were the same ones present at the tactical command post.

The FBI has since said that based on “preliminary test results the FBI has evidence that supports the claim that the DNA sample provided by the Government of the Philippines (GOP) on 27 January 2015 is related to the currently incarcerated subject Rahmat Abhdir.”

Abhdir is Marwan’s brother, who is currently detained in the US.

Sticky issue

“Oplan Exodus” has become controversial for a score of reasons. The SAF command decided to keep the Philippine military and top PNP brass out of the loop, informing them of the operation only after troopers had entered Mamasapano town in Maguindanao.

US involvement has also been a sticky issue, with various reports – from media outfits and Mamasapano residents – of sightings of foreigners during the operation and of a drone that hovered over the area prior to and during the operation.

The US has been involved in counterterrorism operations in the Philippines for more than a decade now. 

Napeñas said during a Senate hearing that having US counterparts involved in the operation “is authoritzed as such involvement is part of a continuing legitimate project.”

The BOI in its report said it “cannot ascertain the validity of this claim” and that it would be up to the Philippine-US Security Engagement Board to determine if Napeñas’ reasoning was valid.

An expert has dismissed US intelligence description of Marwan as a top terrorist. He was “a little snake who has been blown up into a dragon,” said the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict headed by Sidney Jones. (READ: Marwan not ‘world-class terrorist‘)

The BOI report is the result of a 6-week long probe by selected police officers. The board was formed the day after the bloody operation in Mamasapano. – Rappler.com

Related stories on the BOI report:

Aquino didn’t give guidance to Napeñas on peace deal

Aquino broke chain of command – BOI

Aquino has no liability, says Roxas

Police probers: Purisima acted without authority

Don’t you trust AFP? Aquino asked Purisima, Napeñas

BOI: Mamasapano report presents ‘true picture’

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.