Contradicting prior U.S. claims, a Philippine government investigation released Tuesday in Manila suggests that the U.S. secretly had a hand in a failed commando raid in that country that resulted in a bloodbath and set in motion an ongoing political scandal.
In the botched January Mamasapano operation, which targeted two "terrorists" with U.S. bounties on their heads, Philippine forces suffered a disastrous defeat that left 44 police officers, four civilians, and 18 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front dead. One of the suspects, Zulkifli bin Hir, was also killed in the confrontation.
The consequences, however, went far beyond the immediate lives lost.
As Walden Bellow explains:
The biggest casualty was the Bangsa Moro Basic Law that was in the last stages of being shepherded through the Philippine Congress. Known as the 'BBL,' the bill was the product of nearly five years of intensive negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to put an end to almost 50 years of fighting in the southern Philippines. It would have created an autonomous region for the Muslim Moros, a fiercely independent people that have long resisted integration into the broader Filipino polity.
The deadly incident, further, fueled opposition to the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.
Many have raised questions about the U.S. role in the operation, in a country with a long history of U.S. military domination—and grassroots resistance.
The United States has denied direct involvement in the raid itself. The investigation by the Philippine Senate, however, directly contradicts this account.
Craig Whitlock summarizes for the Washington Post:
At least six Americans were present at a Philippine command post during the ill-fated January raid and supplied Philippine forces with surveillance data collected by U.S. aircraft, the investigation found. One of the Americans went so far as to order a Philippine army general to call in artillery fire, though the general angrily refused, investigators found.
The investigation by the Philippine Senate contradicts past statements from U.S. officials that Americans played no role in the operation except to help evacuate wounded Philippine police officers from a prolonged gun battle with Islamist rebels on the island of Mindanao.