THE US government provided President Benigno Aquino III with “actionable intelligence” to pin down the precise location of Malaysian terrorist and bomb expert Marwan, a police general told the Manila Standard Thursday.
The US used drones and satellites in its intelligence gathering while suspended Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima sent “foot soldiers” to verify the intel.
“The US intel checked out,” said the source, who requested anonymity.
The police general said Purisima and his US counterpart had been exchanging information since 2005, when Purisima started tracking and following the moves of Malaysian bomb expert Marwan, who was believed to have arrived the country in 2002.
The general said while President Aquino was in Zamboanga on Sunday to closely monitor the developments in Mamasapano, some US troops also stationed themselves in Zamboanga.
“The President even had an advance party of the Presidential Security Group in Cotabato so that he would immediately fly in there to receive Marwan’s turnover. The Americans were also there ready with the $5 million bounty for Marwan’s head,” the source said.
“It was not just coincidental that minutes after the carnage, several US helicopters were already in the area purportedly to transport the bodies,” the general said.
“The Americans were on standby,” he said.
Told that the US Embassy explained the presence of the American choppers was due to the request made by the Philippine government for transport, the source said the military has its own helicopters that can be tapped anytime.
“The Philippine government could not simply fly choppers over areas where the ceasefire is in effect and this could be misconstrued as a violation of the ceasefire agreement,” the source said.
“The Americans were only too willing to accede to President Aquino’s request,” the source added.
The police general said the drones that were discovered in various parts of the country, particularly in most parts of Mindanao, had been used by the US to scour the area and pinpoint the place where Marwan was believed to be in hiding.
“If the drone would detect the presence of Marwan, the US would immediately relay the information to Purisima, who would deploy men to verify the intelligence report,” the source said.
“Satellites and drones had been used in tracking the movements of Marwan. The US provided that to the Philippine government considering that Marwan was among the most wanted terrorist in the US,” the source said.
Asked how Purisima and the US intelligence officials would exchange information, the source said they either met to discuss the information or they used a courier or satellite phones.
Pressed if Purisima and the US officials continued to meet after he was suspended, the source had this to say: “That’s when President Aquino came in, but after he was briefed by Purisima.”
In Congress, Nationalist Peoples Coalition stalwart and Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian urged President Aquino to make a full disclosure of what he knew about the “top secret operation.”
Gatchalian said it was imperative for the President to make a full disclosure in the wake of reports that he was on top of the operation, with Purisima directly reporting to him as the proponent and implementor of the intelligence project to to arrest most wanted terrorist and Jemaah Islamiyah member Zulkifli bin Hir alias “Commander Marwan.”
“As commander-in-chief, it is the prerogative of the President to order a top secret operation to bag international terrorists. However, it is also his duty as the Chief Executive to make a full disclosure to the Filipino people on the SAF operation that resulted in a fiasco with 44 of its personnel being killed by elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front,” Gatchalian said.
Gatchalian said he received information from unimpeachable sources that the SAF operation was funded by the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) on orders from President Aquino.
PAOCC, which has an annual budget of P500 million, is headed by Ochoa.
The same sources told Gatchalian that the neutralization of Malaysian bomb expert Zulkifli bin Hir, who has a $5 million bounty for his capture, has long been a project of the SAF beginning in 2005 when SAF personnel almost bagged him somewhere in Mindanao.
The US government has long been seeking Zulkifli, who is on Washington’s list of most wanted terrorists. Filipino Basit Usman carries a $2 million bounty because of his involvement in terrorist activities.
Gatchalian confirmed the Manila Standard report and said he was informed that Napenas was directly reporting to Purisima in the White House in Camp Crame, where the suspended PNP chief holds residence.
“It was General Napenas who was briefing General Purisima, who in turn, reports directly to the President to brief him about the progress and developments in the top secret SAF operation to arrest Commander Marwan,” said Gatchalian.
Roxas later relieved Napenas because he did not follow the chain of command and blindsided the Interior secretary and Espina.
Gatchalian said Ochoa and Purisima should be summoned by Congress to the scheduled investigation of the failed SAF operation since they are the ones who can provide details of the operation from the planning stage up to the implementation.
“Since President Aquino cannot be summoned by Congress, it would do him good if he can make a full disclosure of what he knew about the operation, especially since he was in Zamboanga City a day before the SAF operation started,” Gatchalian said.
Also on Thursday, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the entry of a US air asset to extricate the dead police commandos was “but a normal practice.”
He said, however, that US service are not authorized to participate in any operation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
It is normal practice for government authorities to seek assistance from the United States during a medical evacuation,” Gazmin said.
He could not confirm, however, if US troops were present during the evacuation of wounded SAF members.
Video footage aired hours after the Mamasapan fighting showed Caucasian men with sidearm pistols helping Filipino soldiers evacuate wounded policemen using a blue and white Bell-type civilian helicopter.
“I cannot confirm that (the presence of US helicopter) but I saw the pictures. That is a normal practice whereby we ask assistance from the US forces to evacuate our wounded,” said Gazmin in a radio interview over dzRH.
“That is not part of the operation but we ask help because they have all the assets to provide the medical evacuation,” added Gazmin.
Gazmin also explained the delay in the military’s response to the SAF’s call for help.
He said the Army’s 6th Infantry Division was indeed able to send armor and troops from Division Reconnaissance Company at about 8:20 a.m. Sunday after receiving a request for assistance from the SAF.
Gazmin said the reinforcements arrived after the initial phase of the fighting between the MILF and BIFF between 4:30 a.m. to 5 a.m.
“Why did it take so long? Because the coordination was made while they (SAF) were on their way to the target,” said Gazmin.
Gazmin said that the SAF coordinated with the battalion deployed in the area to guard main supply routes and detachments, but this should have been done at the division level so that the action could be well planned.
The defense chief also noted the targeted area was a big camp of the MILF and there were also Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters present.
“In this kind of major operation, you need to plan very well,” said Gazmin.
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