MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino promised police commandos better extra resources on Wednesday, weeks after 44 commandos were killed in a clash with Muslim rebels, but declined to answer questions about the botched raid, a senior officer said.
On Jan. 25, police commandos sneaked into a southern rebel area to “neutralize” Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, an al Qaeda-linked bomb maker with a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head.
The mission went disastrously wrong for the government when members of the police Special Action Force were ambushed by combined rebel forces and 44 were killed.
It has become Aquino’s toughest test in his five years in office, casting doubt on his policy to talk peace, especially since it emerged that a suspended police general, a close friend of the president, played a central role in the raid.
Aquino spent about three hours meeting commandos before installing a new commander for the elite unit. It was the first such meeting since the clash.
“Of course, they have questions... why was there no artillery support, why was there no mechanized (vehicles),” the new commander, Chief Superintendent Moro Virgilio Lazo, told journalists, saying the commandos felt they had been left on their own.
Aquino asked the commandos to await results of a formal investigation to answer their questions, but promised to acquire more equipment and pour more resources into training the force, Lazo said.
The clash stalled government peace talks with the largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, in the majority Christian country. Some lawmakers, bishops, civil society groups and activists have called on Aquino to resign.
Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Nick Macfie