Military admits 'lapses' in Basilan incident
MANILA, Philippines - The P2-million bounty each on the heads of an Abu Sayyaf terrorist leader and a fugitive Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commander may have caused the haphazard mission that led to the deaths of 19 soldiers in Al-Barka, Basilan last week, sources alleged.
The Special Forces mission that went awry sought to capture the Abu Sayyaf's Long Malat Solaiman and MILF commander Dan Laksaw Asnawi, who were behind the beheading of Marines in the same town in 2007.
The military on Tuesday admitted lapses in the failed Special Forces operation that also left more than a dozen other soldiers injured.
"We will admit that we had operational lapses na nangyari. That's why few of our officers occupying sensitive post like those concerned units were relieved from their post," said Armed Forces spokesman Arnulfo Burgos.
He was referring to Lt. Col. Leo Peña, who has been relieved from his post as commander of the 4th Special Forces Battalion that was involved in the Al-Barka incident.
Burgos said Peña authorized the operation.
"In terms of authorization ... it's just clearance from commander [of] task force," he said. "It's part of his responsibility, being island commander he can authorize actions in Basilan."
"After [Armed Forces] command conference [last Friday, we] came up with corrective measures," Burgos said.
Based on an initial military report on the incident that was acquired by ABS-CBN News, Peña planned and ordered the Al-Barka operation without approval from his superiors.
It was reportedly only a training mission for members of the Scuba Class NR42, and many of the soldiers had little combat experience in Basilan.
The mission also had no green light from either the General Headquarters or the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom).
The report said Special Forces Task Force Basilan head Col. Alexander Macario was bypassed and was only informed on the night before the operation took place. Macario has also been relieved from his post.
Wesmincom, on the other hand, was only told about it around 7am on the actual day of the operation, while troops were already deployed in Al-Barka.
The report added that soldiers entered the town without coordination and thorough planning even if the Special Forces commanders knew that the area is located near the MILF's 114th Base Command.
The Armed Forces Inspector General's ongoing investigation will determine if the responsibility for the fiasco only lies on the hands of Peña and Macario, or if any higher-ranking official was also involved.
Macario, in his exit briefing Monday, said the Al-Barka operation was legitimate.
He said they were coordinating with an MILF official, Hudlimaya Salim, before the operation was launched. - with reports from Ces Oreña-Drilon and Gretchen Malalad, ABS-CBN News; ANC