By Cha Monforte
Analysis: The state of military’s fighting machine in Marawi war on Maute terror (1st review)
It looks like that the military now is either desperate or it is just wanting immediate ending after the specter is being shown that it cannot end the Maute Marawi terror in hours but in days. It looks like the military rather than beefing up a special contingency joint military operation is now deploying conventional force or making conventional war starting on Day 8 of its campaign. It is marked now by heavy troop mobilizations, heavy firepower and artillery and air attacks, unmindful anymore of its earlier operational goal of minimizing collateral damage specifically on property destruction after the mass exodus of Marawi people has been effected.
AFP spokesperson B/Gen. Restituto Padilla when asked by Cheryl Cosim of TV 2 Wednesday morning if the military campaign could be ended Friday, a deadline that earlier got into the media’s knowledge, the general could not categorically say they could. But let us be reminded that the military force is in Marawi City, a compact urban territory adjoined by a long stretch of provincial territories with a water navigation access, which is Lake Lanao. The military is facing slim group of terrorist snipers, a rat-like terrorist force utilizing the terrains of buildings to their main advantage.
Let it now be accepted for the sake of analysis and without probing that as of Wednesday morning, on Day 9, the Maute terrorists suffered 80 members killed, while the military has more than 15 casualties, and more than 50 injured. Be these as the military claimed without proofs of photos, Maute terrorists are indeed losing and on the retreat; they are on the run, but not without accomplishing a high psychological impact of being known by both the local and international publics as an indeed new separate, fiercer force (that is born) and a terrorist organization now qualified to be under the ISIS. The martial law declaration just elevated its bad stature to the bad terrorists’ world.
The context of the military Marawi operation is that on the H-Day, it was only after for the Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and when the slim terrorist force violently rallied back, the military got little time to come up detailed operational and tactical plans for D-Day for joint operations against a much bigger force, for a bigger war. It is quite certain that the tactical command headquarters is in nearby military camp. It seems that the special operations force first deployed was only after for Hapilon and his gang of leaders meeting in what was reported as a unification of BIFF, Abu Sayyaf and Maute groups, all pledging allegiance to ISIS.
It can be plausibly surmised that the military thus has only blitzkrieg plan to get Hapilon and whoever near to him at the time of attack. But the terrorists put up a big fight and have already a grand plan dragging the whole city as one battlefield, which ostensibly caught the military flat-footed, with its accepted intelligence mis-appreciation, and so- it had to immediately make a contingent special operations plan¸ which would revolve on the concept of “surgical pinpoint operations led by air attacks as a joint force of the military and special forces of the PNP move in on the ground”.
The military AFP general leading the tactical command and AFP hierarchy then pushed for mass evacuation of Marawi people apparently to lessen collateral damage to civilian lives while it met head-on early terrorist challenges of controlling entry bridges, raising ISIS flags, and started mapping up operational plans where terrorists held out in the city’s number of barangays. The leading provision in the rules of engagement of the military in the Marawi war on Maute terror is to minimize collateral damage, casualties of civilians, destruction and fires of combustible houses, and as enunciated by BGen. Padilla in a GMA TV interview, for air strikes to happen only to buildings or houses where there are clearly terrorists holding out.
The military got an unfamiliar terrain and they have not made familiarization exercises in the city unlike the domestic supporters of Maute terrorists who know the ins and outs of Marawi City and the exits to stretched provincial country and Lake Lanao. It looks like that when the military seized back the bridges during the first volley of fires and exchange of skirmishes, they had not sealed all exit points at the city’s rear including dropping or deploying of a maritime special force in Lake Lanao. They had not made drop zones at the rear, which is so unfamiliar to them.
Not counting the forces involved in the implementation of martial law downhill, and throughout Mindanao, if not of the country, the military deployed in Marawi City various forces: infantry battalions, mechanized force, assortment of police and Air Force, rangers, special operations forces, and psychological operations teams and paramilitaries. They constitute one awesome force, raising a specter of overstrength that did not deliver early results in matter of hours but in days more than a week unless the military would tell us the real mass of the force after the war, nay battles. This is our military fighting machine composed of conventional and special operations forces deployed in one terrorists-infected area.
The military launched air attacks as soon as the ground military troops reached the poblacion. In the following days, we witnessed on TV coverage more air attacks while ground troops move in further and further towards to the city interiors. As there was no central command of the enemies or it could not be seen, which is a first usual target to isolate in any invasive military action, the ground troops have to contend with rat-like enemy snipers, and by the scary loud firepower, the evacuation of residents can be effected easily, with the air attacks and bombs serving “to stun” the populace, and that’s in line also with the preemptive principle of sending warning shots or even terror strikes to give the enemy a first lesson how powerful its adversary is with the aim of securing their immediate surrender. But there was no surrender from the Maute terrorists.
In claiming on Saturday, on Day 5, that it was starting a clearing operation, and after a full week, the military was already mobilizing a conventional force than a surgical special operations force. There now appears an entry to the central territory of Marawi City and pursuing beyond a conventional force backed up with a mechanized infantry, armored reconnaissance and assault vehicles, strike aircrafts and helicopter gunships, and more ground troops to finally retake the city. There is now a tremendous pressure for the military to end the campaign and preempt the breaking up of the horror of mass evacuation or the making of a ghosttown of the besieged city for a long period of time. In its campaign so far, there was little factor of bad climate, but more on bad unfamiliar terrain.
After the war, the military has to relieve the tired operating troops, spread its companies to targets in the surrounding suburbs where the Maute terrorists fled, and put in place a battalion on guard and a Military Police Brigade and various civil and psychological operations units to relieve the assault forces, engage in stability operations, and help rebuild the city on siege.
The military due to unfamiliar urban terrain cannot have a speed, but only a mass ever to be guided with concern for collateral damage. But the Maute terrorists managed to make hostages out from the city parish priest and Dansalan College teachers and workers as they managed to retreat to the Lanao del suburbs and hinterlands where they would make guerilla warfare, hide and seek or rest, and this could surely lengthen the war against the remaining Maute terrorists, et al. When the Marawi City is retaken¸the Duterte government must commence immediate post-war stability operations, ever mindful that the lesson in Iraq is that the regime of Saddam Hussein fell down, but the ensuing civil government could not rise up and American troops had to say goodbye due to protracted armed challenges including suicide bombings from fanatical rat-like terrorists.
But it looks like that really Marawi City can never be the same again, after this Marawi war on Maute terror, when the war-traumatized close to 200,000 city people are back to their homeland.
* Cha Monforte, a provincial journalist based in Davao Region, is also an online academic, content writer, occasionally having portfolio of helping write military academic articles and researches. He writes freelance his column in Edge Davao, and Mindanao Sun Chronicle, and this online site. Follow us.