American forces did not engage in combat or violate any Philippine law when they provided help to the PNP Special Action Force commandos during the Jan. 25 Mamasapano operations, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Thursday.
In its report, the Philippine National Police Board of Inquiry (BOI) earlier said that the US provided assistance to the police commando raid that killed suspecteed Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan.
But during a press briefing, Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose noted that the BOI report said “there were no armed US troops engaged in combat in the area of operations.”
The Philippine Constitution bars foreign troops from engaging in actual combat in the country.
“We can conclude from these findings that US involvement in this operation did not violate any agreement or law,” Jose said.
Separately, a Philippine Senate investigation report on the bloody assault that was made public on Tuesday revealed that the Americans provided behind-the scenes intelligence, equipment, surveillance, and training to the police commandos who were involved in the raid.
Six of them, the report added, were monitoring the operation on TV sets with Filipino military counterparts as it was happening.
When sought for comment on this, Jose said the DFA is not involved with operational details of the operation, dubbed as Oplan Exodus, but explained that the US can provide assistance to Philippine forces under existing security arrangements between Manila and Washington.
However, he stressed that such cooperation is limited to training, intelligence, and equipment.
Since 2002, hundreds of US Special Forces have been deployed and scattered in the Zamboanga Peninsula and nearby islands of Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and Central Mindanao on a rotation basis to provide combat training and weapons to the Philippine military fighting extremist groups blamed for the country's worst terrorist attacks.
The US government announced this year that they have scaled down its troops, but said a small number will remain in the area.
“As we have stated before, existing arrangements allow US forces to serve in an advisory and assistance capacities, particularly undertaking information-sharing, equipment provision, training and casualty evacuation,” Jose explained.
“Under the same arrangements, the only constitutional restriction is that US forces may not engage in combat operations,” he said.