MANILA, Philippines - The military on Monday denied that the United States staged a drone strike in the Philippines to kill Indonesian terrorist Umar Patek in 2006.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr. said US troops in the country are not involved in combat operations.
“That’s (US troops’ involvement in actual combat operations) against the law. The United States does not participate in [actual] military operations here in the Philippines,” Burgos said.
He was referring to the 1987 Constitution which forbids the involvement of foreign armed forces in military combat operations.
Burgos said the activities of American soldiers in the country are limited to sharing of information and training.
Former AFP chief Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the military had conducted air surveillance under his watch but the US soldiers had not been involved.
Esperon said that American forces that belong to the Joint Special Operations Task Force merely provided “technical assistance” to his troops.
“They (US soldiers) are not active in combat,” Esperon, who served as AFP chief from July 21, 2006 to May 12, 2008, said.
Esperon said that while the AFP had acquired aircraft to beef up its capability, it never had a Predator drone.
“We sent planes for surveillance, but we did not stage an attack using drones,” he said in Filipino.
An article that appeared on the Sunday magazine of New York Times claimed that US troops in the Philippines staged a drone strike that targeted Patek in 2006.
In the article “The Drone Zone,” writer Mark Mazzetti said a Predator drone was sent to the jungles of the Philippines to eliminate the international terrorist.
The attack, which reportedly involved a “barrage of Hellfire missiles,” failed to kill Patek, who was tagged in the bombings in Bali, Indonesia that claimed the lives of 202 persons.
The same New York Times article claimed that Pentagon is increasing its fleet of drones by 30 percent.
Patek is a member of the Jemaah Islamiyah, which has links to international terror cell al-Qaeda and local terrorist group Abu Sayyaf.
Earlier reports claimed that Patek had managed to sneak into the Philippines to meet with local militants.
Patek had been arrested and slapped with a 20-year jail term for his participation in the Bali bombings.