The Army provided reinforcements to members of the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) who were involved in a bloody clash with Muslim rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, contrary to reports that it did not aid the police commandos, the military said Monday.

In its report to Armed Forces chief Gregorio Catapang, a fact-finding committee said the Army’s 6th Infantry Division organized a “quick reaction force,” AFP public affairs chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said.

The force was composed of troops from different infantry units, including armored assets of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade which were deployed for the extraction of wounded SAF personnel, Cabunoc said in a statement.

“Unknown to most in the public, the 6th Infantry Division began providing support from an hour after being informed until the early morning hours of the following day,” Cabunoc said.

Members of the SAF conducted an operation in Brgy. Tukanalipao on January 25 against Malaysian Jemaah Islamiyah operative Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Filipino bomb expert Abdul Basit Usman.

Marwan was reportedly killed in the 4 a.m. raid, but members of the SAF were engaged in a firefight by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as they withdrew.

The clash resulted in the death of 44 police commandos and wounding of 16 more, raising questions like what the Army — which has thousands of troops in Maguindanao — did to help the SAF.

“The Army was not remiss in its duties to assist and reinforce the beleaguered SAF elements in Mamasapano and did all that was possible under the circumstances when they received the request of help after the fact,” Cabunoc said.

A military source, meanwhile, said the 6th ID even had its Howitzer cannons readied and helicopters were sent by the AFP Western Mindanao Command, but these were not used because of “lack of information.”

“Nai-fly kaagad ‘yung helicopter, hindi lang alam kung san papupuntahin, nakabuo kaagad ng mga forces, hindi lang alam kung saan papupuntahin… Noong nagre-request ng kanyon, hindi naman daw makapaputok ‘yung mga forces kasi hindi naman nila alam kung nasaan ‘yung papapatukan,” the source, who requested anonymity, said.

The helicopters were eventually not flown, also to avoid an “escalation,” while cannons only fired rounds of “white phosporous” to determine the beleaguered SAF troopers’ location, the source said.

“There were appropriate preparations made as the events were unfolding, only that it appeared na limited ‘yung information [kaya] hindi talaga agad naibigay ang wastong suporta,” he added.

“The AFP categorically states that everything that could be done was done under the circumstance with due consideration to avoid fratricide and collateral damage,” Cabunoc said for his part.

The AFP will turn over all of the fact-finding committee’s findings to the PNP Board of Inquiry (BOI) once requested, he said.

“The AFP also appeals to the public to be circumspect on the matter and allow the BOI to finish its assigned task and await the final report of the Board,” he added. (John Roson)

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