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‘Pact allowed US role in SAF raid’

UNITED States Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg  on Friday  confirmed that the US played a role in last year’s botched operation to capture Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan, which led to the massacre of 44 members of Philippine National Police-Special Action Force.

United States Ambassador Philip Goldberg 

The US ambassador said in local radio and television interviews that the cooperation between the two countries in the Jan. 25 operation to arrest Marwan fell within the scope of the Visiting Forces Agreement the two countries had signed.

“There is cooperation, that all of these is done within the legal framework, and that there are agreements, and everything was done consensually or at the request of the Philippine government,” Goldberg said.

The admission came after the Senate reopened its investigation into the massacre that took the lives of 44 SAF commandos, 18 rebels and five civilians on Jan. 25, 2015.

The US envoy emphasized, however, that the operation was designed and carried out by Filipinos.

“This is not an American operation,” Goldberg said over the radio.

Residents near the battle zone a year ago said they saw white men evacuating wounded police commandos on a helicopter that flew in from Mamasapano town.

Seeing is believing. Agence France Presse file photo shows US soldiers in military gear helping Filipino soldiers board an  injured police commando from one stretcher to another and onto a waiting US military helicopter in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 26, 2015, following clashes with Muslim rebels. 

The US also later helped the Philippines confirm that Marwan was killed during the operation through DNA testing.

“We have agreements that cover the police as well and our cooperation with Special Action Force has to do with international terrorism. We have dealt with the Special Action Force,” he said, insisting that the US role was within the legal framework of both countries.

Reports said a US drone believed to have originated from a drone facility in Zamboanga City at the foot of the South also filmed the operation.

Goldberg refused to confirm or deny the presence of drones, however.

“I’m not going to discuss specifics of a very sensitive matter publicly,” he said, adding that information about the role of the US had been provided to investigating bodies, including the Senate.

He said that the only physical role was for casualty evacuation.

Goldberg also confirmed that the $5-million reward for the death of Marwan during the operation was “already in process.”

He declined to confirm, however, that a claimant has been identified and confirmed by the US.

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