‘Time after target most fatal mistake in Oplan Exodus’ | Inquirer News

‘Time after target most fatal mistake in Oplan Exodus’



MANILA, Philippines–It was “time after target,” not “time on target,” and it was the “most fatal mistake” in “Oplan Exodus,” the Jan. 25 Special Action Force (SAF) operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, which cost the lives of 44 elite police commandos.

In security operations, “time on target” means informing other agencies about a mission once the troops have hit the ground.


But Oplan Exodus was deliberately kept away from the military. The SAF informed the military about the mission long after the commandos had killed the terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and when they were already pinned down in a cornfield by at least three groups of Moro rebels.

Senate coins term


That was “time after target,” a term coined by the Senate joint committee that inquired into the Mamasapano incident to describe the decision by the suspended Philippine National Police Director chief, General Alan Purisima, and the sacked SAF commander, Director Getulio Napeñas, to keep the military uninformed about the high-risk mission up to the last minute.

Sen. Grace Poe, head of the joint committee, presented the investigation report at a news conference on Tuesday.

The decision against prior coordination with the military was the “most fatal mistake” by the planners of Oplan Exodus, the investigation report said.

It was “the biggest factor contributing to the (big number of) casualties” in the execution of Oplan Exodus, it said.

“Had there been prior coordination with the [Armed Forces of the Philippines], reinforcing elements could have been easily placed on standby, air assets could have been prepositioned and forward observer units from the Army could have been embedded with the PNP SAF operating units in case the need for indirect fire support arose. More lives could have been saved and fewer lives could have been lost,” the investigation report said.

Compromised missions

The report said Purisima and Napeñas, in briefing President Aquino on Oplan Exodus on Jan. 9, recommended the mission be carried out time on target to avoid compromising the operation, as what happened in previous missions to capture Marwan that were coordinated with the military.


President Aquino told Napeñas to coordinate the mission with the military but Purisima spoke to the President in private then told Napeñas not to inform Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and the PNP officer in charge, Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina.

“While both Purisima and Napeñas claimed that it was necessary that coordination of Oplan Exodus with other government forces be ‘time on target,’ the actual coordination was done ‘time after target,’” the report said.

It said that the plan prepared by Napeñas “explicitly requires the task of coordination” with the heads of the Committee on the Cessation Hostilities, the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), the 6th Infantry Division (ID) and the Mechanized Brigade, among other units.

Napeñas was supposed to inform these units about the operation when the 84th Speical Action Company, or Seaborne, arrived in Mamasapano, but did not.

The Seaborne arrived in Mamasapano around 3 a.m. of Jan. 25, but Napeñas sent a text message to the 6th ID commander, Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, at 5:06 a.m., a delay of more than two hours.

At this time, the Seaborne had already killed Marwan and was shooting its way out of Mamasapano.

“The coordination, while late, was urgently necessary as the PNP SAF troopers were already engaged with hostile forces and needed reinforcement to assist them in their exfiltration,” the report said.

‘Partly false’ info

It noted that Napeñas’ text message to Pangilinan was “partly false” because he told Pangilinan that Oplan Exodus was supported by local police units such as the Maguindanao Police Provincial Office and the Police Regional Office of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao when in fact Oplan Exodus was “purely a PNP SAF operation.”

Napeñas also told Pangilinan in the same text message that he had coordinated with the Mechanized Brigade when he only did so at 5:20 a.m. or minutes after contacting the general.

At 5:37 a.m., Napeñas called Brig. Gen. Manolito Orense, the assistant division commander and head of the government panel in the AHJAG, to ask him to coordinate the operation with his counterpart in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, indicating that the SAF had no prior coordination with the joint ceasefire committee.

“Even then, Napeñas did not inform Orense that the operation was already well under way, and the PNP SAF troopers were already engaged with hostile forces,” the report said.

It said the military apparently first thought that it was only the 55th Special Action Company, the blocking force, that was trapped in a firefight because the 6th ID learned about the Seaborne only around 5:15 p.m.

Mamasapano terrain

The Senate investigators also faulted the Oplan Exodus planners for inadequate intelligence and poor planning, saying in their report that all these were “fatal mistakes.”

This included the fact that the planners failed to adequately consider the topography of Mamasapano.

It was learned in the Senate inquiry, less than half of the Seaborne was able to reach the target area, with the rest unable to cross the river nearest the target area because the water there was much deeper and the current was strong.

The other groups, serving as blocking forces, also were unable to reach their designated areas “for reasons that were unclear.”

It was also learned that intelligence report prior to the launch of the mission indicated that there were more than 1,000 hostile forces at or near the target area and yet the SAF deployed only 392 commandos for the entire operation “where almost a quarter of them are positioned to guard (the Seaborne) that was so far away from the actual theater of action.”

The planners were also cited for failing to prepare to deal with a “free for all”—the hostile local residents joining forces against the SAF commandos—and its consequences even if they were informed of such a possibility.

The committee report said that as attested by a survivor of the operation, “gunfire came from the community.”

“In the case of the Mamasapano clash, the community came together to protect its territory deemed to have been intruded by outsiders,” it said.

“In sum, Oplan Exodus was poorly planned and executed. It intentionally broke the chain of command. The Oplan was not followed to details. It was badly coordinated. Oplan Exodus had badges of failure from the very start,” the report said.

Abort criteria

The committee report also noted that Oplan Exodus was written in a way that it provided only three criteria for the mission to be aborted despite President Aquino’s statement on March 9 that Napeñas could have aborted it in view of several factors.

But it said that based on the text of Oplan Exodus, there were only three “abort criteria” and these were when the mission was compromised by the lawless elements/armed groups; there were serious physical injuries that may require serious medical treatment; and the police commandos had no extra ammunition.

“Obviously, based on the facts established at the hearings, the moment the Seaborne reached its target near Marwan’s hut, none of the criteria was present to justify the team leader or even the overall commander to abort the operation. [T]he commandos were expected to rely on their own [plan],” it said.

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