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Oplan Exodus: What went wrong?

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Police commandos sent to arrest terrorist bomber Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, were prevented from completing Operation Plan: Exodus without casualties due to unfamiliarity with the terrain, the vast marshland, strong current of rivers, wide open cornfields and irrigation canals.

Director Benjamin Magalong, Philippine National Police-Board of Inquiry chief, said yesterday these are among the factors that delayed the movement of the 392 commandos – divided into subgroups – to their entry and exit waypoint areas.

In his presentation before a joint inquiry of the Senate committee on public order and committee on peace, unification and reconciliation on Monday, Magalong said a gap existed between the plan and the actual operation.

“Except for the Seaborne Unit, the other units did not reach their designated positions,” he said.

Magalong said the PNP Board of Inquiry also noted that the 84th Seaborne Company under Supt. Raymond Train took two hours longer than they had planned.

“They were delayed by the difficult terrain and the strong river current near the target,” read Magalong’s report.

“The departure of the support groups accordingly were delayed because the plan called for synchronization of their movement with that of the Seaborne. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the Seaborne was still able to reach its objective and neutralize Marwan.” 

The Seaborne company comprised the assault team tasked with the main effort to go after Marwan.

Eight of the 36-member team were killed during the ensuing shootout with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Relieved Special Action Force (SAF) commander Director Getulio Napeñas told The STAR BIFF “casualties” included both the dead and the wounded.

Some affidavits gathered from the police commandos revealed that they indeed took time traversing the terrain and rivers.

Magalong refused to give a categorical answer when sought for comment if the delays in the deployment of troops compromised the operation.

“That would be part of the findings,” he told The STAR.

The director of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) said the operational audit team has yet to wrap up its work on the affidavits of the police commandos involved in the Mamasapano operation.

The BOI will look into the lapses in operational matters of PNP and SAF officials from the planning of the mission, implementation of the operation plan up to the execution of the entire mission, he added.

Napeñas said he had conducted a threat assessment on Marwan.

“The capability of the target, location of friendly forces, terrain as well as the obstacles during the mission” were some of the factors considered, he said.

Napeñas said the mission planning also assessed the type of vehicles to be used in the operations.

“This is the intelligence preparation in the battle field, so that our men tasked to operate will be fully informed (of the challenges they may face during battle),” he said.

Magalong said the 392 commandos were assigned to 12 different operating groups: one was the assault force, four for support, two as blocking forces, and two for route security.

The 84th  Special Action Company was the assault force tasked to enter Marwan’s hut and arrest him.

Magalong said the commandos killed Marwan in a shootout after he fired when the police entered his lair.

“The plan called for the deployment of the 55th, 45th, 42th and 41st special action companies as containment forces along the entry and exit routes of the Seaborne,” read Magalong’s report.

Mamasapano Mayor Datu Ampatuan disputed yesterday the claims of Napeñas that his men were able to inflict casualties on the MILF and BIFF last Jan. 25.

“We did not see the bodies,” he said.

Ampatuan cited the official count wherein 18 MILF members were killed and 14 others wounded.

Ampatuan said the SAF vehicles did have proper government identification.

He learned from Barangay 2 Tukanalipao that gunshots were heard  in their area between 5 and 6 a.m., he added.

Ampatuan said he, the police and the military tried to stop the fighting at about 7 a.m. that Sunday.

“There was heavy exchange of fire from 7 a.m. up to 1:30 p.m.,” he said.

Ampatuan said local government officials accompanied members of the Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities, the MILF and the government panel to help them enter the battle zone, he said.

They were able to extricate bodies of the first batch of slain SAF commandos at about 5:30 p.m. near a river dike, he added.

Ampatuan confirmed the claim of Napeñas that an MILF commander was living about 500 meters away from the house of Marwan. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe

AMPATUAN

BANGSAMORO ISLAMIC FREEDOM FIGHTERS

BOARD OF INQUIRY

CESSATION OF HOSTILITIES

COMMANDOS

COORDINATING COMMITTEE

CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION AND DETECTION GROUP

MAGALONG

MARWAN

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