Lessons From Marawi (Book Review)

            The Battle in Marawi is one of the longest encounters by the AFP after the World War II which lasted for five (5) months for the purpose of re-capturing the city which was led by Emir vested to the Southeast Asia by the Al-Qaeda, Isnilon Hapilon, which is also the leader of hundreds of Local Terrorist Groups (LTG) including Maute Group, dozens of foreigners in an Urban Terrain Battle under the guise of Islamic Ejtima (Missionary) and other Terrorist Groups i.e BIFF, Lost Commands of MILF, Separatist from ASG, Jemaah Islamiyah who swore allegiance under the banner of Isnilon Hapilon.

The process to capture Hapilon is not easy for the government forces. The government encountered problems such as gaps and deficiencies in the AFP Joint Military operations involving miscommunications of PAF and Naval Air Group in conducting Aerial Support and Precisions Bombs, lacking the capabilities and necessary training for urban fighting which is adapted by LTGs in capturing Marawi wherein the Urban Fighting is a new method employed by the LTGs supported by the Foreign Terrorists Fighters (FTF) which the AFP and its counterparts have very meager knowledge of its Operations including the Intelligence, command and control problems, differences in doctrines and operational concepts and lack of proper equipment.

Problems encountered during the Marawi Siege were new to the concept of AFP since these strategies by both LTGs and FTFs were adopted from their foreign contemporaries and was applied against us. So much so that researchers and analysts recommend for the abrupt formulation of new policies and doctrines that may solve the future encounters with this type of warfare and other issues like this that may resurface, it is a matter of National Policy to be implemented by the National Legislators and Senior Military Leadership as to address strategic plans and employ means beyond the purview of AFP and National Security Council.

The Development of a Joint MOUT Doctrine which integrates combat engineering, CBRNE, and combined arms capabilities; Engagement in Joint Battle Staff planning exercises and scenario development that may determine who controls who and to which authority a unit or battalion answers to; Capitalizing on the use of military grade drone technology as well as enhance its capability to counter other emergent enemy tactics using drones, the LTGs also uses drones to determine the position of the allied troops that why the AFP came up with a plan to paint the government drones into black as not to confuse with the enemy drones since it was noticed that the LTGs and the AFP use similar drone technology.

Further, Emphasizing the constant development and implementation of lessons learned and best practices among the services occurred during the Battle of Marawi, each and every service have their own perils and accomplishments during the war and was already placed into research and further study of the government. Once of which is to develop a unified training and maintenance procedures of ISR equipment for the AFP and other uniformed services as to avoid the confusion as what happened from earlier discussed;

With the help of Local Government Executives (LGE), Leveraging on current agreements to other LGEs that may be used to elucidate programs and develop terrorist infested cities and enhancing collaboration between and among Intelligence Units and the regional intelligence community in order to effectively monitor the movement and ingress of known and suspected terrorists, radicals, and sympathizers into the country;

            What happened with the Marawi Siege was a great victory of the AFP in terms of operational and tactical aspects but there are many problems need to be addressed in order for the government to anticipate and counter such threats as indicated in the book, it was believed that the planning begun sometime in 2009 when Hapilon was declared the Emir in the Southeast Asian Region, since these FTFs and LTGs cannot penetrate Malaysia and Indonesia even though these two countries are Muslims dominated, they chose Philippines as the secondary target because of its porous borders and the multiple entry points.        

            Isnilon Hapilon is one of the leaders of ASG Basilan who is an Afghan Veteran who fought with Osama Bin Laden when the Russian forces invaded Afghanistan, Hapilon belonged from Yakan and Tausug tribe from the Southernmost part of the Philippines. a Local Terrorist Group which involved in kidnapping of twenty tourists in Dos Palmas Resort in Palawan in 27 May 2001 was spearheaded by Hapilon. Thus, Hapilon was tagged the most wanted criminal by Federal Bureau Investigation’s (FBI) for committing acts of terror against the USA and other foreign country. He also led the prison break of ASG financer and ten (10) other prisoners in 2007. Hapilon pledged allegiance to ISIS and he was more open to welcoming foreign fighters with the objective to establish an ISIS caliphate in the Philippines. It was stated in his message by use of social media and other forums, if you cannot go to Syria, Libya or Iraq because of difficulty in finances, why not come to the Philippines and pledge your allegiance for a united Ummah.

            Hapilon’s arrival to Marawi City was the reckoning of both LTGs and FTFs to commence the planning to besiege the City. They studied the terrain, the movement of nearest army and police detachment, entry and exit point and as well as the offensive and defensive position that their member can take advantage in the area since majority of them are locals of the community and others are sympathizers of Hapilon’s cause. Further, the AFP recover a video footage documenting the planning to take over the Marawi and based on the plan LTGs have already posted 900 fighters spread over 96 barangays of the city and will raise the ISIS flag in the Provincial Capital upon their occupation of the city.

The NISG and the Naval Forces Western Mindanao (NFWM) conducted operation to detect and neutralize Hapilon in a compound pinpointed by the Intelligence Unit. However, when the operation began, they were faced with more than 100 personnel inside the compound and was receiving a barrage of firepower including snipers from the 2nd floor of the said compound which led to the demise of four personnel. According, the NAVSOG Medical team retrieved the fallen soldiers and an air strike was called towards the coordinates of the compound but to no avail, Hapilon and his troops already vacated the said compound and nowhere to be found.

            As a background, The Maute family belong to a political clan in Lanao Del Sur. The Maute children were well educated, expose to Islamist ideology and got radicalized on the process. The parents of the locals were shocked when the declaration to capture the city commenced and their children were seen wearing the black clothes supporting the said group. Maute group was the reason that the Marawi local youth got radicalized and come to support the extremist and terrorism. The Maute brother want to join the MILF organization and to assume leadership but the old leaders of MILF reject the Maute brothers protesting that they are only new to the organization and that they were already given high ranking positions because of their studies. It was also believed that the intent and the motives of both brothers are different from the principles of the MILF and that is the reason for their rejection from being a member of the MILF. The entire family was involved during the Marawi Siege. Prior to the Marawi Siege, the Maute group laid a siege in Butig, Lanao del Sur and it was explained that the said siege was a preparatory for the siege of Marawi to determine the strength and capabilities of the group.

Another notable disadvantage of our government troops during Marawi siege is the lack of comprehensive intelligence on the enemy which was disregarded by the Higher authorities, for the last 6 months prior to the said Siege the Intelligence Unit were not able to determine the movements of the said group especially on the reliable estimate of the strength and disposition of its forces, and their capabilities for fire and maneuver. The availability of building plans and lay-out of sewage and underground tunnel systems are supposed to be the important data they needed in planning. On the other hand, the Local Terrorist Groups were very familiar on the building structure of the community because some of them were recruited from the local churches, schools, youth and even the Madrasas in the said city.  Through this, they have extensive knowledge of the battlespace and used it to conceal their movements and plans. This was intercepted through communication that these local terrorist groups had also readily obtained information on the government’s action from their relatives that remained in the properties of the city. We could notice that the attempt of the local terrorist groups had been planned for a long time.

On the enemy side, everything on their strategic advantage is well planned from movement. The location of their stronghold for defensive position is truly difficult to penetrate since most of the building are founded on the belief of family feuds and families are said to have firearms and munitions in case an emergency to defend oneself arises. Even from the explosive air drops, mortars and high caliber firearms; these houses could withstand the impact because most of the houses were made of solid pour of concrete. Underground tunnels were utilized to be their hiding place during heavy bombings. They also used improvised explosive device (IEDs) to deter the raiding teams in both day and night. These IEDs were being planted on the critical entry point of their defensive sector to inflict heavy damage to maneuvering teams. This also served as alarming device for the enemy side to locate and notice the avenues of approach of our operating troops.  This strategy caused lots of casualties in government side. But a simple tactic but very effective done by the MARSOG against these IEDs was to tie a rock to a rope and slowly pulling the rope towards them to trigger the IEDs that are knee and chest level.

Another factor that hindered our troops from attacking is the civilian casualties that may be affected by the war, some of them were not able to escape from the Main Battle Area and some of them were relatives of the LTGs who were acting as a hostage since they know that the government troops adhere to the IHL and the Rules of Engagement (ROE). It was difficult for the advancement of the troops since they do not know who are the civilians and who are the LTGs since some of the LTGs blend with the localities and act as a victim. These are some of the reasons why it took us longer to neutralize and clear the area of operation.

The enemy logistics and materials were highly sustained because prior to their hostilities. they collected their food supply and other necessary materials through hoarding on the community house to sustain longer period of battle. In relation to this, they even corroborated with other Local Government Heads since some of them are local residents of the said community, their relatives were able to provide them their basic needs including narcotics that kept them awake during the said siege. It was also emphasized in the book that some of the mayors and local executives who support Hapilon and his cohorts were bribed and given hefty sum of money the security of his group and safety.

As a conclusion, the Lessons from Marawi were new to the AFP and its counterparts either foreign or domestic, the long history of the group in their cause for a unified Islamic State and their declaration for Jihad is a need for the government to pursue further talks with leaders of ARMM as well as the attention to economic needs of the said city and the resource allocation needed by their community, social media was a vital instrument for the group on their recruitment of these members which led to their early demise needs a wakeup call for the preservation of the Youth and the influence of the social media to them, poverty is also a vital factor that led to the acceptance of the members of the Maute Group since members alone are provided with 30,000 money up front and a firearm, Finally, the evolving tactics of the FTFs and LTGs on their adaption from Jungle Warfighting to Urban Warfare is a clincher for a resurface and assurance of another tragedy that may befall again to the Philippines that needs the attention of our lawmakers and our Chief Executives both in Military and National Offices for it to be avoided and if it reappears then it may be mitigated.

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