Philippine President Benigno Noynoy Aquino faced a dilemma last week after the deaths of 19 soldiers in Al-Barka, Basilan. Despite the public outcry and mourning, he resisted numerous calls to declare war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and break a ceasefire thats been in place since 2008. Instead, he decided to hold the military accountable. He also chose not to tell the public about the numerous mistakes that led to the tragic deaths.
Results of a classified military investigation paint a picture of incompetence that seems hard to believe. There are conflicting statements from military officers regarding the purpose of the mission: a high-ranking officer said the troops were supposed to serve a warrant of arrest against the Abu Sayyafs Long Malat Solaiman. Army spokesmen, however, publicly stated their goal was to serve a warrant of arrest against the MILFs Commander Dan Laksaw Asnawi, who was involved in the beheadings of soldiers in 2007. However, these statements do not explain why soldiers are doing a police function.
According to a classified report, details of which were confirmed by military officers familiar with the investigation, the battle between the military and the Abu Sayyaf began less than 2 km. away from a designated safe zone called the Area of Temporary Stay (ATS) of the MILFs 114th Base Command. The battle lasted 10 hours and moved 4.3 km away from the ATS, disproving the MILFs claims that soldiers violated the ceasefire rules.
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