MANILA, Philippines – “Napeñas said they ‘own the night,’ but he probably missed the point that the enemy ‘owns the day.'”
This summarizes the Board of Inquiry’s (BOI) damning findings against sacked Special Action Force (SAF) commander Director Getulio Napeñas, who was the ground commander of almost 400 SAF commandos who attacked Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25 to arrest two terrorists. (Read the full text of the BOI report here)
The planning of “Oplan Exodus” was “defective” and packed with “unrealistic assumptions,” the BOI composed of police officials said in its 130-page report published on Friday, March 13.
It resulted in the death of 67 Filipinos, including 5 civilians, 18 Muslim rebels, and 44 elite cops. (READ: Aquino bypassed chain of command)
The BOI cited the following causes of the flawed mission:
- poor analysis of the area of operation;
- unrealistic assumptions;
- poor intelligence estimate;
- absence of abort criteria;
- lack of flexibility in its CONOPS (concept of operations);
- inappropriate application of TOT (time on target); and
- absence of prior coordination with the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and AHJAG (Ad Hoc Joint Action Group).
Oplan Exodus deployed 392 troopers from the PNP-SAF to Mamasapano town in Maguindanao in the wee hours of the morning on January 25. Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, was killed while Abdul Basit Usman escaped.
In a botched exit operation, some 73 commandos – members of the 84th and 55th Special Action Companies (SAC) – encountered fighters from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), its breakaway group the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and private armed groups.
SAF ‘owns the night’
In its report, the BOI noted that “Napeñas may not have considered differing opinions raised by his subordinate commanders.” It’s contrary to the culture in SAF where even subordinates are allowed to voice out their opinions and give their inputs in planning and crucial decisions.
“The mission planning appears to have been done by a group of officers and not by a planning team, as the inputs were heavily influenced by instructions from Napeñas. The element of healthy discussions was not achieved and the free flow of ideas was curtailed,” said the BOI report.
Among the “unrealistic assumptions” in the operation include:
- cover of darkness;
- schedule of movement;
- time of operation between 10:00 pm to 4:00 am when local activities are minimal
- Support Efforts and Blocking/Containment Force postions;
- no compromise situation;
- no abort criteria;
- a “must-do” mission;
- readily available combat support;
- intervention by the peace process mechanisms
It was Napeñas’ assertion and assumption that his men would finish the job before daybreak. “Napeñas said that SAF ‘owns the night’ as they were equipped with Night Fighting Systems,” said the BOI report.
“Napeñas said they ‘own the night,’ but he probably missed the point that the enemy ‘owns the day,’” the BOI said.
Operating at night also gave the SAF an advantage since it meant “real-time” intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance could be easier deployed under the cover of darkness.
But the 84th Seaborne Company was unable to get to Marwan’s hut on time. Consequently, the other SAF companies arrived at their designated waypoints almost 2 hours than originally planned.
Why didn’t they abort the mission? Napeñas did not have an “abort option,” the report added.
Napeñas also told troopers that artillery or indirect fire support would come should they be in trouble. But with the military out of the loop, this did not happen. The military only fired white phosphorous in the area of the trapped 84th Seaborne more than 12 hours after the clashes began.
Trapped, with heavy load
When the 55th SAC was under assault by day time, its troopers had nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. The cornfields of Barangay Tukanalipao offered no cover for the beleaguered troopers.
“Being lightly equipped and not designed for sustained armed engagement, operating units of this kind are normally deployed in the area of operation with adequate enforcement and combat support back at the base. When in contact with the enemy, the SOP is to immediately disengage and proceed to pre-designated rallying points. During the operation briefing, Napeñas ordered his men not to engage unless fired upon,” read the report.
To make matters worse, the BOI noted that the two SAF companies were “given equipment load that were more than they could effectively carry.” Some members of the 55th SAC, in fact, “kept in requesting ‘halt’ during the infiltration as they could not cope with the rest of the team.”
The report may be used by bodies such as the National Police Commission, the PNP’s Internal Affairs Service, and the justice department as basis for filing criminal and administrative complaints.
The BOI is headed by Director Benjamin Magalong, chief of the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group. – Rappler.com
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