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Cablegate: Two U.S. Servicemembers Killed in Roadside

VZCZCXRO6676
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #2055/01 2720820
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 290820Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5300
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 002055

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MTS

E.O. 12958:N/A
TAGS: PTER PGOV PREL RP
SUBJECT: TWO U.S. SERVICEMEMBERS KILLED IN ROADSIDE
EXPLOSION ON JOLO ISLAND

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Two U.S. Joint Special Operations Task
Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) servicemembers on the island
of Jolo were killed in a roadside explosion on the
morning of September 29 as they traveled in an armored
vehicle with Philippine military personnel to support
humanitarian projects. Following receipt of this tragic
news, FBI's Legal Attache office and NCIS dispatched
teams to assist in the investigation. Early available
reports indicate that the explosion was caused by an
Improvised Explosive Device (IED), and it is unclear
whether the explosion was specifically directed at U.S.
forces, who are not allowed by the Philippine
Constitution to engage in combat operations. No group
has claimed responsibility for this attack, although the
terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group and other criminal groups are
known to operate on the island. The attack comes two
weeks after unidentified assailants conducted a non-fatal
ambush against an AFP and U.S. supply convoy at the Jolo
City pier. Names of the two U.S. personnel killed are
being withheld pending notification of the next of kin.
Philippine Secretary of National Defense Teodoro called
the Ambassador to convey condolences at the loss of
American life. END SUMMARY

EXPLOSION KILLS TWO U.S. SERVICEMEMBERS
---------------------------------------

2. (SBU) A roadside explosion at approximately 0900 local
time September 29 killed one U.S. servicemember and
fatally injured a second. The JSOTF-P personnel were
transporting Philippine military personnel in a JSOTF-P
armored vehicle between two humanitarian assistance
sites, one of which was a school. The explosion south of
the village of Batong near Jolo City also killed one
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) servicemember and
severely injured two others. Early JSOTF-P reports
indicate that an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), which
appeared to be placed outside the school gates, caused
the explosion. It is unclear if U.S. forces were the
specific target of the attack. Names of the two U.S.
personnel killed are being withheld pending notification
of the next of kin.

MISSION SENDS TEAMS TO INVESTIGATE
----------------------------------

3. (SBU) Following news of the fatal attack, FBI's Legal
Attache office and NCIS dispatched teams to assist in the
investigation. JSOTF-P also dispatched personnel to
coordinate with the AFP. Embassy sections are continuing
to track all available information on this attack. The
Mission will provide updates of the ongoing
investigations and report septel any new developments.

A RARE ATTACK ON U.S. FORCES
----------------------------

4. (SBU) While attacks against the Philippine military
and civilians are common on Jolo, this IED attack is the
first fatal attack against U.S. personnel since a 2002
bombing in Zamboanga that claimed the life of a U.S.
servicemember. No group has thus far claimed
responsibility. The terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and
other criminal groups that oppose the Philippine military
presence on Jolo are known to operate on the island,
often with the support of the local population. This
attack follows a September 14 attack by unidentified
assailants against an AFP and U.S. resupply convoy at the
Jolo City pier, and comes at a time of heightened
Philippine military activity against the ASG, which has
continued to kidnap and kill civilians throughout the
year. Philippine military operations against ASG rebels
culminated in a successful but controversial September 21
operation on the last two days of Ramadan, which
effectively wiped out a portion of the ASG stronghold on
Jolo.

COMMENT
-------

5. (SBU) This tragic killing of U.S. personnel involved
in one of many ongoing humanitarian projects on Jolo
island could hasten a Philippine government review of the
U.S.-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement, which the
Philippine Senate recently urged the government to

MANILA 00002055 002 OF 002


renegotiate. Even as the Filipino people and the
Philippine military praise the U.S. government's
contributions in the wake of a devastating tropical storm
that submerged large swaths of the country, some
politicians opposed to the U.S. presence in the
Philippines -- and those seeking to score political
points in advance of the May 2010 general elections --
may nonetheless attempt to use this tragedy to bolster
their arguments for renegotiating the existing framework
of U.S.-Philippines bilateral military cooperation. Post
will continue to monitor the situation on the island of
Jolo and will report septel about any initial
developments in the investigations, as well as Philippine
government reaction to the attack.

KENNEY

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