U.S. drone attack vs. Indonesian terrorist Umar Patek in PHL in 2006 unlikely — PAF official

July 10, 2012 10:29 pm 

By Ben Cal

MANILA, July 10 -– “It was unlikely that the United States conducted a drone attack against Indonesian terrorist Umar Patek in southern Philippines in 2006 without the knowledge of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.”

This was the reaction made by Maj. Gen. Jose Tony E. Villarete, commanding general of the 3rd Air Division of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) based in Zamboanga City, in a telephone interview with the Philippines News Agency on Tuesday about the incident six years ago.

Villarete, a seasoned jet fighter combat pilot, said that “the drone attack, if true, was a big incident to happen without the knowledge of the military, particularly the Air Force.”

Under the Philippine Constitution, no foreign troops are allowed to participate in any combat operation conducted by Filipino soldiers against terror groups or lawless elements.

Villarete emphatically said that a small contingent of American troops in the country are only involved in training and humanitarian missions with their Filipino counterparts.

“There is no way we allow them (Americans) to join combat operations,” he stressed.

At the same, Villarete acknowledged that the Americans have been responsible for the training of Filipino troops in the use of night vision.

“The Americans have also trained our pilots in night flying using night goggles,” Villarete said.

“Our UH-1H helicopter and OV-10 pilots can now fly at night,” he said.

Earlier, former AFP chief of staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. also denied that U.S. drones conducted bombing runs against Patek in southern Philippines in 2006.

Esperon was the AFP chief from July 21, 2006 to May 12, 2008.

He said that it was all intelligence work that enabled the AFP to neutralize Abu Sayyaf terrorist leaders during his watch.

"For example, Khadaffy Janjalani, the Abu Sayyaf leader, and Abu Sulaiman, the No. 2 Abu Sayyaf leader, thinker and planner, were killed in 2007 and 2008 during separate firefights with government troops as a result of pure and good intelligence work,” Esperon told PNA.

He said U.S. troops were not allowed to engage in combat operation because that is not allowed in the Constitution.

Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr., AFP spokesman, also said that U.S. troops are not involved in combat operations in the country.

“That’s against the law. The United States does not participate in military operations here in the Philippines,” Burgos stressed.

The New York Times had reported that the U.S. used drone aircraft, a pilotless plane operated by remote control, to bomb the hideout of Patek during a 2006 military operation in Mindanao.

The supposed drone airstrike was published by the New York Times in its issue last Sunday written by Mark Mazzeti.

The U.S. paper said that “the Pentagon is increasing its fleet of drones by 30 percent and military leaders estimate that, within a year or so, the number of (U.S.) Air Force pilots flying unmanned planes could be higher than the number who actually leave the ground, much about how and where the U.S. government operates drones remains a secret.”

“Over the years, details have trickled out about lethal drone operations in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen and elsewhere. But the drone war has been even more extensive. According to three current and former intelligence officials I spoke to, in 2006, a barrage of Hellfire missiles from a Predator hit a suspected militant camp in the jungles of the Philippines, in an attempt to kill the Indonesian terrorist Umar Patek. The strike, which was reported at the time as a 'Philippine military operation,' missed Patek but killed others at the camp,” Mazzeti said in his report.

According to Wikipedia: “Hellfire is an air-to-surface missile (ASM) developed primarily for anti-armor use. It has multi-mission, multi-target precision-strike capability, and can be launched from multiple air, sea, and ground platforms,” adding it is a “fire-and-forget weapon.” (PNA) scs/RBC/ssc

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