Air Force Broncos or US Predators?
Last week, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Jessie Dellosa announced that “in an air attack that lasted only a few seconds, government war planes killed one of Southeast Asia’s most wanted terrorist leaders as well as a senior Abu Sayyaf commander and a Singaporean guerrilla.” Also killed were 12 followers of the terror leaders. Asked for proof, Dellosa said “I am sure because I will not easily issue a statement here.” The three leaders were Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as “Marwan” and a leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terror network; Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) Commander Umbra Jumdail, known as “Doc Abu”; and, a Singaporean, Muhamda Ali of the JI group. However, as of yesterday, the bodies of the 15 terrorists had not been recovered.
According to news reports, the air strike was carried out by two PAF OV-10 Broncos that dropped four 227-kg bombs over a “thickly vegetated area under the cover of coconut trees in Parang, Sulu province.” The planes struck at 3 a.m., catching the terrorists sleeping in their tents.
We must congratulate our pilots for the proficiency and skills shown in delivering their bombs on target with pinpoint accuracy. Credit must also go to the intelligence work that provided the necessary information leading to this operation.
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Almost four months after the massacre and mutilation of our soldiers in Al-Barka, Basilan, I was hoping the priority targets of our intelligence operations would be those involved in the massacre, but unfortunately, there appears to be little progress in that direction. We can kill Abu Sayyaf and JI terrorists in the country, but we cannot get the murderers of our Marines and Scout Rangers in Basilan. To refresh our memory, in July 2007, 14 Marines were killed in Al-Barka, Basilan. In October last year, 19 Scout Rangers were also massacred in the same locality. In both cases, the men were beheaded; their bodies mutilated, showing signs of torture. As I said earlier, we owe it to our soldiers—living and dead—to effect closure to the Al-Barka massacres. If we can track down Abu Sayyaf and JI personalities, why can’t we do the same with MILF terrorists? By the way, whatever happened to the investigations that were supposed to be conducted by ceasefire committees established by the peace process?
Is it because there are substantial rewards being offered by the Philippine and US governments for certain terrorists that our attention is focused on these priority targets? A rogues gallery released jointly by the Philippine military and the US Embassy shows pictures of 24 terrorist leaders wanted for murder, extortion and kidnapping, with corresponding rewards for their capture. The reward poster reads, “The Philippine Government with the US Government is offering rewards from US$2,500 up to US$10 million to the citizens of the Philippines who provide the Anti-Terrorism Task Force (ATTF), AFP, or US Embassy with information or assistance that leads to the arrest or capture of the following terrorists…” 24 pictures are included in this poster. Dan Asnawi, the head of the MILF group that beheaded our soldiers in Al-Barka, is not included even as Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin vowed before a press conference in November to capture him. Where is our sense of priority? Does the AFP have a dedicated unit whose sole objective is to find, capture or kill the Al-Barka terrorists? The US Navy Seal team that got Osama bin Laden was not concerned about Pakistani sensitivities. Its mission was to get Bin Laden—dead or alive. At times, I get the feeling we are more concerned about US targets (Marwan is high on the FBI list of wanted terrorists), about freeing kidnapped foreigners, especially Westerners, rather than bringing to justice those who murder our soldiers. Shades of our colonial mentality.
Let me now bring up a subject that may be disturbing to many of our people.
During the last few years, the United States has increasingly relied on drone attacks on suspected terrorist hideouts in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas
(FATA). Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) that carry armaments such as Hellfire missiles. Originally conceived for use in reconnaissance and forward observation roles, the drones were modified and upgraded for combat operations. The MQ-1 Predator is the primary UAV currently being used by the US Air Force and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. “M” stands for multi-role; “Q” refers to an unmanned aircraft system. It has been used with success to kill a number of prominent al-Qaida operatives. However, its use has also resulted in civilian deaths. The missile does not distinguish between a terrorist and a noncombatant. Part of the current friction between the United States and Pakistan stems from drone attacks that have often resulted in civilian casualties. One could say that instead of winning friends for the United States, the use of drones creates even more enemies because of the collateral damage inflicted on innocent men, women and children who may be bystanders in the conflict.
According to Wikipedia, two civil-registered, unarmed MQ-1s have been operated by the office of the National Security Advisor in the Philippines since 2006.
Were US Predator drones used in the Sulu air strike? The Philippine Air Force vehemently denies this, saying that our pilots are quite capable of delivering their ordnance on target as reported. Shortly after the Al-Barka incident, PAF planes were also sent against terrorists fortifications in Zamboanga Sibugay. Nothing much happened. How do we explain the wide discrepancy in the performance of our airmen, bombing with uncanny accuracy at nighttime in the Parang, Sulu strike, but virtually failing to hit any significant target during a daytime raid in Zamboanga Sibugay?
Under the current Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a rotating force of some 600 US servicemen has been deployed in Mindanao for the past several years. Next month, high-level talks between the Philippines and the United States on expanding US military presence here are to be held in Washington. This is an election year in the United States, and as President Barack Obama faces an uphill battle to win a second term, he has to show the American people that the United States continues to score in the war against terror. Robert Warshaw of the Heritage Foundation calls the Sulu operation a “big victory” for American and Philippine forces.
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