The aftermath of Mamasapono attack that cost the lives of 44 Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP - SAF) together with 17 MILF and 5 other civilian lives is getting murkier. After the initial shock that 44 police commandos had lost their lives in the erstwhile successful raid that was said to have managed to eliminate Marwan @ Zulkifli Hir, holes begin to appear in the official version of the incident.
MILF claimed they do not harbour Marwan nor Usman
MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) claimed that they do not harbour both Marwan nor Abdul Basit Usman, both having the combined value of USD9 million on their heads. While the denial may seems to be an after-thought, the fact that MILF is desperate for peace in Mindanao, makes their claim believable. With Malaysia as the principal negotiator for the peace process, who also happens to have special interest in Marwan, it would not be conceivable for them to have harboured Marwan. More likely Marwan would have been surrendered to either Malaysian or Philippines governments as Marwan's presence within their ranks is a liability.
As a proof of their sincerity, MILF and the Philippine govt had signed the disarmament agreement in KL on 2nd of February 2015.
Even murkier now is that a local MILF commander had claimed that there was another group involved in the battle, a group of private army with unknown affiliation.
BIFF too claimed they did not harbour both terrorists
BIFF too claimed that they did not harbour both terrorists that were targeted in the raid. They went as far as raising doubts on the veracity of the photos showing a half-naked man being attended to by the SAF. BIFF claimed that they need not to have Marwan as part of their forces as they have sufficient local support.
BIFF claims may have some truth in it as till today, there were no official confirmation on Marwan's death been confirmed via DNA nor finger prints.
AFP Indirectly Blaming the Police for the Failed Operation
In a rather surprise comment by an AFP officer to the Philippines Daily Inquirer, they had indirectly implied that they trust the MILF would not have purposely violated the peace treaty. This is especially true as the MILF had not engage the Philippine Army in battle since 2010.
Further details were surprising. Amongst other that there were another 300 plus SAF commandos did not try to assist their beleaguered colleagues, none of the commandos had surveyed the grounds before the attack, lack of directional fire support, request for support from the military without informing exact grid location, nor the military were given the radio frequency the police were using. All of these were recipe for disaster.
PNP Did Informed President Aquino
The fact that the operation was ran by a suspended police officer has already doomed the operation. Latest information revealed and had since confirmed that President Aquino was informed of the operation. This piece of news will not be favourable for both the MILF and the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
Philippine Govt and Political Leaders' Reaction
The calls for resumption of hostilities is getting stronger. The anger of losing 44 men in a single day, the largest loss in a single day by the Philippines is getting stronger. However, there were also at least one Philippine politician who had called for reconciliation and closure.
Based on Filipino media outlets, there are rumours now that the operation was in fact acted based on FBI informants within the MILF who were paid a large sum of money. The MILF affiliation notwithstanding, the fact that the operation was launched based on information provided by a foreign power is very disturbing. Did PNP tried to obtain independent ground confirmation? Do they know who was the informant? Or what if the informant is just trying to get his or her hands on some blood money? Not to forget, the previous time Marwan was claimed to have been killed, an informant had happily received USD5 million back then.
The Only Good News
The only good news out of this operation is probably the killing of Marwan. While there are many that are sceptical of Marwan's death (myself included), we could not discount the confirmation from MILF spokesperson, Mohagher Iqbal. He has confirmed that MILF command had received intelligence report from their intelligence unit confirming the killing of South-East Asia's most wanted terrorist.
What does this entails us to?
Would peace be achievable in Mindanao? It seems it is getting remote. War seems to be getting imminent in the region. This misencounter, or rather misadventure by PNP SAF, under the misguidance of US' FBI has thrown a huge spanner into the workings of Bangsamoro Basic Law, which would ultimately have helped to provide peace to the land of Moro people. Hundreds of years of wars have scarred the people of the land. Peace, if given chance would have helped to create economic opportunities that would give rise to the economic power of the Philippines.
What we may have in our hands are a bunch of warmongering psychopaths who want to have a war so that they can gain economically. Similarly, war will create displacement of people. For years, Sabah had been the safe haven for the Moros to hide out while waiting for the fighting to die down. This will mean that many would be trying to cross the seas to the safety of our shores. And amongst them, would be armed men wanting to bring this war over to our shores.
Already, we have a problem of policing our maritime borders from intrusion from the Philippines. With a coastline of more than 1,600km, We need more than men to watch over and detect the intrusions. Whilst our forces have now begun with the sea-basing approach that would hopefully stem the intrusions, we need a force multiplier, an eye that can see across the horizon, detecting the hundreds of boats that will be approaching our waters. An eye that can see through the night,
And I believe we might have a good candidate in Saab's SAAB 2000 AEW&C system. In the last 2 years, I've tried to explore what ways that our forces may be able to detect, identify and intercept incoming foreign elements into our waters. Last year, I wrote about my wish list for DSA, specifically on the purchases of MPA (Maritime Patrol Aircraft) that I believe would be best to be used to be operated by our forces as a way to detect intrusions. And recently, reading on Thailand's acquisition of this asset has led me to believe that this might be the answer to our headache in Sabah. This I will further elaborate in another write up later this week.