Wednesday, September 29, 2021

AFP probes 'friendly fire' deaths in Marawi

THE military is looking into circumstances surrounding the deaths of 11 soldiers killed in an airstrike in the conflict-torn Marawi City.

A board of inquiry (BOI), which will be headed by Major General Rafael Valencia, was created on instructions of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año to avoid similar incident in the future.

AFP spokesperson Restituto Padilla said Thursday that the military will look into two possibilities: possible equipment failure or human failure.

He said the SF260W aircraft, which was then conducting airstrike, successfully hit its first three assigned target but it unfortunately failed in the fourth and last ordnance round. It went wayward for an unknown reason and accidentally hit the ground troops, killing 11 soldiers and wounded seven others.

Padilla said the incident happened in a hilly area in Marawi City where at least five bandits are being targeted.

Despite the incident, Padilla said the use of airstrike is not automatically suspended as the decision to do so will still depend on the decision of the commander on the ground.

"We will not prevent the ground commander for using such but we will add appropriate measure to ensure similar incident will not happen again," he said.

He said, however, that the pilots of the possible faulty aircraft will not be allowed to operate a plane and will be placed under administrative control to ensure they will be able to answer the inquiry of the BOI.

Padilla admitted that the BOI may not finish its report immediately due to the ongoing situation from where the incident took place.

However, Padilla assured the troops on the ground are still determined to address the atrocity in Marawi City made by the Maute terror group.

He said he believe that the soldiers understands the risk of their duties and will not lose heart in performing their responsibilities despite the unfortunate incident.

Año, for his part, said he was sadden by the incident but assured the public that it will not happen again and that the families of the casualties will be attended to accordingly.

"Pending the result of the investigation, we may defer the use of SF260 for the meantime but we shall continue using all other available ground, air and naval assets in order to resolve the crisis quickly," he said.

The crisis in Marawi City started on May 23 after government troops clashed with the Islamic State-linked Maute terror group.

The said military operation aims to neutralize the Maute terror group's top leader, Isnilon Hapilon, who was reportedly sighted in the area along with his followers.

The stand-off between the government troops and rebels who held hostages and occupied several establishments in the said city resulted in the declaration of the martial law by President Rodrigo Duterte.

The military, for their part, used airstrikes in order to pressure the rebels to plush out from their lair.

Padilla said that based on their intelligence, the Maute rebels were in foraging mode as they are lacking of food and other supplies.

"Watak-watak sila ngayon," he said.

He said as of June 1, 120 bandits were killed amid the firefight where 90 bodies were recovered, while 19 civilians were also dead.

Padilla said 36 government forces were also killed including the three policemen while 83 were wounded in action.

The military also rescued 996 civilians from the encounter zone and recovered 98 high-powered firearms believed to be belonging to the Maute rebels, he said. (SunStar Philippines)
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