The official account, as reported by the local press, goes like this: In the dead of night in early February, over a remote island in southeast Asia, the Filipino military pull off an unprecedented anti-terrorism coup — the surgical bombing of an al Qaeda-linked terrorist stronghold that killed 15 people, including three terror leaders who had been considered some of the most dangerous men in the region.
But while Filipino officials worked through the wreckage to confirm the identities of the dead, half a world away some special operations experts were raising an eyebrow. How did the Filipino military, known to use Vietnam-era planes and “dumb” bombs, execute such a precision strike, much less in the middle of the night?
In a blog post on the Las Vegas-based special operations website SOFREP.com, former Army Special Forces soldier and writer Jack Murphy mused that it was far more likely the local officials were keeping something out of the press — possibly the role of U.S. special operations forces either in providing the Filipino military with highly sophisticated weapons or even conducting the strikes themselves through drone attack.
It turns out such suspicions may have been well founded. According to a new report by The Associated Press, four Filipino officials said that while their antiquated turboprop aircraft did carry the explosive payload to the camp, it was American-provided “satellite-guided” smart bombs that struck so accurately. Never before had American smart bomb technology been used in the Philippine government’s anti-terror campaign.
The AP reported the bombs were the product of a confidential military assistance deal involving U.S. defense contracting giant Raytheon Company, which makes kits capable of converting “dumb” bombs into GPS-guided smart ones that could be launched from the turboprop planes.
In addition to the high tech bombs, some of the officials told the AP an American surveillance drone overhead provided thermal imaging after the strike.
The U.S. currently has around 500 special operations troops and support personnel in the Philippines but none are legally permitted to directly engage terror targets there. Special operators from the Army’s Special Forces, the Navy SEALs and Marine Force Recon do, however, actively assist in training and, according to local reports, some counter-terrorism troops have been helping to track terror targets — including at least one of those reportedly killed in the February bombing — for years.
In 2009, an unnamed defense official told the American Forces Press Service the U.S. government was looking for ways to help the Filipino government fight terrorism and, as the AFPS puts it, ”would like to look at ways to go beyond that help.”
The new AP report comes just days after Filipino President Benigno Aquino said his country was increasing its military capabilities in part to fight terrorism but said it is “not getting any offensive capability from the Americans.”
“But we do need — I think all countries have a legitimate need — for defense and that is our focus,” Aquino told Agence France Presse.
A spokesperson for Raytheon declined to comment for this report and representatives for the Defense Department’s Pacific operations and Special Operations Command did not immediately return requests for comment.