The warning order came in at 1500 requesting sniper/observer teams from the SEALs. They scrambled to prepare their men and were airlifted from Zamboanga to Lanao by C-130 that morning at 0500. The mission was dubbed Operation Haribon after the Haribon Infantry Brigade in the area. When NAVSOG Detachment 8 hit the ground, the SEALs soon moved in to fill a sniper and reconnaissance role, spotting enemy movement 700 meters away from their hide site.

The Maute Group is yet another secessionist group in the Philippines that seeks to carve out a province of their own in the southern portions of the archipelago in which they would enforce strict Islamic law. In many ways, the Maute Group is just a pack of bandits with an ideological cover. In February of 2016, Omar Maute and his brother Abdullah directed his terrorist organization to capture villages, towns, and municipalities in Lanao del Sur which provoked the reaction they wanted from the Philippine government.

The action was designed to raise the group’s public profile, scare civilians into joining their cause, and to attract overseas jihadi finance networks. The Maute Group had pledged their allegiance to ISIS and was now rising their black glad above villages in Lanao. Meanwhile, Omar Maute was forging an alliance with Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group.

“We are looking at the targets who are complacent, doing their every day routine but facing the direction they expect the infantry to infiltrate from,” said “Carlo,” a Philippine Navy SEAL platoon leader in an interview with SOFREP. The snipers radioed any intelligence information they gathered back to headquarters until the time came for them to engage. The enemy had .30 millimeter sniper rifles and a home-made .50 caliber Barrett. The SEALs were firing their 7.62 DMR sniper rifles. They soon found that at 700 meters the enemy was not able to hit the broadside of a barn. The SEAL snipers were highly skilled marksman who had attended both Army and Marine sniper schools before bringing those tactics back to NAVSOG and implementing the best of both courses into their unit.

The Maute Group suffered under precision fire from the snipers as well as indirect fire that the SEALs called in on enemy positions. “We did that for whole day, we did it until 1800 in the evening,” Carlo recalled. Using the cover of darkness that night, the SEALs withdrew to the Haribon Brigade’s tactical headquarters where they met with a Light Reaction Company (LRC). The LRC is one maneuver element belonging to the Light Reaction Regiment (LRR), the Philippine Army’s elite counter-terrorism unit. “It was a joint operation between the SEALs and LRC,” Carlo said.

The ground element had to conduct a river crossing in order to infiltrate into the village. Because of the crossing, it was decided that the SEALs would be the lead element into the target area. “When we reached near the target, the firefight escalated,” Carlo said. “On the first burst of gunfire two Army guys are already dead.” The enemy held the high ground and had the Special Operations soldier pinned down with machine gun and sniper fire. With the sun coming up at 0500 in the morning, the decision was made to withdraw and try again after consolidating and re-organizing their forces.

The next attack saw the assaulters dashing across an open rice field while their sniper provided support. Hitting the first building, four Maute terrorists were killed immediately. The snipers eliminated a further two fighters. Also present in the village was a four-story tower specifically made for enemy snipers to fire at the Philippine military forces from out of small holes. The SEALs quickly captured the tower and placed their own snipers inside. At the end of the first day of fighting, the SEALs established their tactical operations center in an abandoned school.