“Friendly fire” in Marawi: 12 killed in 51 days; probe results out after end of combat operations

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 13 July) – “Friendly fire” has claimed the lives of 12 out of 92 soldiers killed in action in Marawi City in 51 days of fighting as of Wednesday, and while investigations have been ordered on the May 31 and July 12 incidents, the results of the first probe will be made public only “after the completion of active combat operations in the area,” the head of the Board of Inquiry told MindaNews.

The second probe is expected to follow the same release procedure.

“Friendly fire” has also left a total of 18 out of around 500 soldiers wounded in action since clashes between government forces and the Maute Group in Marawi City started on May 23.

Two soldiers were killed and 11 others injured when an aerial bombing missed its target at around 12 noon Wednesday. On May 31, an aerial bombing also missed its target, killing 10 soldiers and wounding seven others.

Smoke rises all over Marawi CIty, which have been repeatedly bombed by Air Force planes. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

In the first incident, General Eduardo Año, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), created a Board of Inquiry (BOI) headed by Major General Rafael Valencia, AFP Inspector General, to determine if it was caused by equipment failure or human error and to avoid a similar incident from happening.

Valencia told MindaNews in a text message late Wednesday night that the BOI had submitted to Año the results of its investigation. But the BOI, he said, recommended to the Chief of Staff “to release the results after the completion of active combat operations in the area.”

“We have submitted our report to (Gen. Año) with our recommendation. There are critical information in the report that could jeopardize operations and put the lives of our troops in grave danger,” he said.

The SF260 aircraft successfully hit its first three assigned targets but missed its fourth and last ordnance round, hitting instead the ground troops.

On Wednesday evening, Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, Task Force Marawi spokesperson, said an investigation is being conducted to “determine the circumstances surrounding an incident where an ordnance missed its target during an airstrike conducted at about 12 noon of 12 July 2017,” killing two soldiers and injuring 11.

He said initial reports from Marawi indicate that the bomb was 250 meters off target, causing the collapse of nearby structures. “Large debris from heavily reinforced buildings accidentally hit two of our personnel who succumbed to death in the process” while 11 others sustained minor shrapnel wounds.

A Philippine Air Force plane drops a bomb into suspected Maute Group positions in Marawi City. MindaNews file photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

Herrera did not say what aircraft missed the target. But AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said it was an FA-50 light combat aircraft.

“We are saddened by this unfortunate incident. We are attending to the needs of the families of our troops who died or were hurt.
Cognizant units from the AFP have formed a group that is now conducting initial investigations to determine the cause of the mishap and prevent the chances of it recurring,” Herrera said.

In a statement on Thursday, Day 52 of the Marawi Crisis, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said what happened on May 31 and July 12 reflects “the harsh nature of urban warfare where soldiers operate in tight spaces and in close proximity to the enemy.”

“The problems we face are the same as those confronted by other nations fighting terrorists in places like Mosul, Fallujah, and Raqqa,” Lorenzana said, adding the AFP is “now reviewing and recalibrating its existing doctrines in order for the troops to adapt and respond to this evolving type of war.”

“Retaking the very last positions of the Maute-ISIS who are still in Marawi is proving to be a challenge,” Lorenzana admitted, but added they are “more determined than ever to finally eliminate these terrorists.”

“We have to operate with due consideration for the safety of the civilians who are still trapped in the area against enemies who know no rules, who use hostages as human shields and children as frontline fighters,” he explained. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)