U.S. counterterrorism personnel played a hidden but key role in a bungled commando operation in the Philippines that resulted in dozens of deaths and a political scandal, according to a government investigation released Tuesday in Manila.
At least six Americans were present at a Philippine command post during the ill-fated January raid and supplied Philippine forces with surveillance data collected by U.S. aircraft, the investigation found. One of the Americans went so far as to order a Philippine army general to call in artillery fire, though the general angrily refused, investigators found.
The investigation by the Philippine Senate contradicts past statements from U.S. officials that Americans played no role in the operation except to help evacuate wounded Philippine police officers from a prolonged gun battle with Islamist rebels on the island of Mindanao. The raid targeted two terrorist suspects with multimillion-dollar U.S. bounties on their heads but ended in a deadly ambush, with 44 police officers and four civilians dead.
One of the targets of the raid, dubbed Operation Exodus, was Zulkifli bin Hir, a leader of a Southeast Asian militant network affiliated with al-Qaeda. A Malaysian citizen who received training as an engineer in the United States, he had been listed for years as a most-wanted terrorist by the State Department, which posted a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture.