MANILA, Philippines - The police commandos who clashed with Muslim rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25 did not run out of bullets, contrary to reports and testimonies in congressional hearings.
They still had ammunition for their rifles, but their grenades were defective and apparently did not explode.
This is according to Superintendent Raymund Train, intelligence officer of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) who led the 38-member assault team.
The SAF was on a mission to capture Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and his Filipino cohort, Basit Usman.
Train said he lost nine men after killing Marwan in his hideout in Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano town.
Another team, the SAF’s 55th Special Action Company, was to serve as a blocking force on the way out of the village. Thirty-five of 36 members of this force died in a clash with fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has signed a peace deal with the government.
In a sworn statement taken by a PNP investigator, Train was asked if his team ran out of ammunition.
“No, because I instructed my men to have fire discipline or shoot only when you see the enemy. However, many of our M203 ammunition were duds,” he said.
An M203 is an M-16 rifle fitted with a grenade launcher.
Asked why he thought nine of his men died, he said, “There was no immediate reinforcement upon extrication. AFP did not react immediately even after we requested for indirect fire support,” referring to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
AFP officials have claimed that they were given little information on the Mamasapano operation and on the location of the embattled SAF forces.
“The planners agreed to use time-on-target as basis of coordination to ensure operational security. This is due to past experiences wherein prior coordination was made with the AFP and the result of the operation was always negative,” Train said.
On Jan. 25, he said the plan was to inform the AFP after their principal target, Marwan, had been taken down “by calling TCP and mentioning the word Bingo.”
Train said he was able to call at 4:15 a.m. after they had killed Marwan.
TCP stands for tactical command post, which was manned by Train’s superiors, sacked SAF commander Director Getulio Napeñas and his deputy, acting SAF commander Noli Taliño, kilometers away from the scene of the firefight.
Train said he did not know, nor was he informed in his communications with TCP, why at least five SAF companies – from 41st to 45th – were not able to reinforce his team and the blocking force that was nearly wiped out.
He recounted that they were able to reach Marwan’s lair at 4:14 a.m. after crossing five rivers, more than an hour behind schedule “due to difficulties in the river crossing.” They were supposed to be in the area at 3 a.m.
Asked how sure he was that the man they had killed was Marwan, he said the target looked like the one in photos they had with them.
“Also, I observed that his behavior, particularly his sleeping habit, is consistent with the known behavior of the target,” he said.
Train said they started to withdraw after taking DNA samples and photographs of their quarry.
He added that they had encountered gunfire after walking about 200 meters away from Marwan’s hideout.
“This time, we also heard more gunfire at about 500 meters from our position. We were then informed by TCP that 55th SAC (blocking force) was also under fire,” he recalled.
Train said they tried to link up with the blocking force.
“No, we were already under fire at this time, so we established a defensive position near a nipa hut and radioed for support several times,” he said when asked if they were able to reach their beleaguered colleagues.
Train said their engagement with Muslim rebels “lasted the whole day.”
“A majority of the casualties died from sniper (fire) and mortar rounds. Many of them died in the afternoon, between 2 and 6,” he said.
Based on testimonies given in congressional hearings, at about this time, all but one of the 36-member 55th SAC had been killed. Relatives have said their last communication with them came at 2 p.m.
Train said they were rescued at around 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 26, more than a day after their clash with Moro fighters.
“We finally left the area of engagement at 3:30 p.m., January 26,” he said.
President Aquino was in Zamboanga City on the day of the gunfight.
Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, commander of the AFP’s Western Mindanao Command based in the city, told last Wednesday’s hearing at the House of Representatives that Aquino authorized a “best effort rescue without endangering reinforcing troops” at about 7 p.m. that day.
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