On any given day in the Philippines, the front page of your daily newspaper can be treated like the sports pages as the public follows along and keeps score between the various terrorist groups and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. A typical day’s headlines in the Philippine Star read:
“Sayyaf kidnaps soldier.”
“3 killed as NPA, soldiers clash.”
“3 BIFF members die in shootout.”
In April of 2017 a small contingent of Abu Sayyaf terrorists traveled to a tourist destination called Bohol in an attempt to run a kidnapping for ransom scheme. The group was systematically hunted down and killed after failing to secure any hostages.
The newspapers attributed the killing of the Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Bohol to the Scout-Rangers. The Philippine Special Operations troops spent days in the jungle tracking them down. Wearing conventional Army uniforms, the soldiers stalked through the foliage, the point man walking right up on top of the leader of the terrorists. Engaged in hand to hand combat, the point man parried the terrorist’s FNC/M203 grenade launcher away at the last moment, sending a 40mm grenade straight into the air. Only when the entire terrorist cell was neutralized was the ground force commander permitted to bring his men back to their base. Their leader was a long time veteran of the unit nicknamed “Windy.”
The newspapers might have said that Windy and his men were Scout-Rangers, but the reality was that they belonged to another unit, one that will never appear on the parade ground or be openly acknowledged by the government. “You never want the enemy to know where you are or what you are doing,” said Chito Dizon, one of the former commanders of the unit in question.
The Light Reaction Regiment is a unit that abhors publicity, their operations kept away from the public eye. “That is the way we do business,” former LRR commander Ted Llamas told SOFREP when asked about the unit’s recent actions in Bohol. “The Scout-Rangers were not even there.”
To find out what the Light Reaction Regiment is and how the unit came about, SOFREP conducted interviews with current and former commanders and operators who served in the unit. In an exclusive behind the scenes look at the Light Reaction Regiment, the unit’s training and many of its missions will be reported on for the first time.
Prior to the creation of the LRR, the Republic of the Philippines maintained a small counter-terrorism unit called A-20 which belonged to the 33rd Special Forces Company. A-20 stood for 20-man assault force which consisted of two 4-man stacks, 2 two-man sniper teams, two 2-man breacher teams, and a four man command group. In the year 2000, Islamist terrorist organizations in the Philippines were growing in strength. A series of high-profile kidnappings of American citizens captured Western attention. Now the United States wanted to fight a problem that the Armed Forces of the Philippines had been dealing with for decades.
The terrorist attack in 2000 led Ambassador Michael Sheehan supported by Joe Felter, the Deputy Defense Attache, to push for the Philippine armed forces to develop a more robust counter-terrorism capability. Under Title 22 Security Assistance authorities, the United States prepared to deploy a Mobile Training Team of Green Berets to the Philippines to train a new counter-terrorism unit. In November of 2000, the Philippines authorized the creation of this new unit under General Order #1292. The Light Reaction Company was born, but still had to be trained and equipped.
Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (B/1/1) stationed at Okinawa, Japan was given the task of training the Light Reaction Company. Many of the Green Berets were and graduates of SFARTAETC and SOTIC who were also regionally aligned with the Philippines, they were the perfect choice to mentor the new unit. 25 million dollars was provided by the United States for this endeavor, and the first four-month Counter-Terrorism Training course was run by the Green Berets members in March of 2001 overseen by Major Max Carpenter.
Meanwhile, there were several other related endeavors in the Philippines that would duplicate some of the new unit’s capabilities, namely the anti-crime task force that helped the Philippine police and was mostly involved in kidnapping cases as well as 33rd Special Forces Company. Both of these elements were merged with the Light Reaction Company over the next several years.
The unit, “sources its personnel from Scout-Rangers and Special Forces and then trains them along counter-terrorism lines which was done by the US,” former LRR commander Colonel Ted Llamas told SOFREP. All of the men recruited into the unit have previous combat experience prior to attending assessment and selection. LRC also put a heavy emphasis on psychological screening in order to identify the right types of personalities. “In the case of snipers you are looking for a guy who is very patient, doesn’t get bored, and we involve civilian doctors to give us a profile. For the assaulters, you are looking for guys who are not exactly gung-ho, but you know…” Llamas explained. Many operators also came to the unit with advanced skill sets. “If they come to us with SCUBA school they bring added value.”
After selection, prospective unit members spend six months in their counter-terrorism training course learning to conduct surgical raids, hostage rescue operations, and direct action missions. Over the years, the unit has modified the training course from what was initially taught by the American Special Forces soldiers. The program of instruction needed to include jungle warfare and key tactics needed to be changed to reflect local particularisms. For instance, the technique of points of domination for room clearing turned out to not be effective in combat during the 2013 Zamboanga siege. Because flimsy wood is used to construct many homes in the Philippines, they also had to come up with new approaches that would not be needed in the shoot house. The enemy tactics, techniques, and procedures were also taught to the trainees. “We incorporated that,” Llamas said. “We put it in the Philippines setting.”
There were also some rivalries as the two other Army SOCOM units, the Scout-Rangers and Special Forces, eyeballed the new unit suspiciously. Some of the dynamics at play mirrored the American military experience in counter-terrorism. When the US Army created Delta Force, the Ranger Regiment and Special Forces did not want to give up their best men to go to the new unit. The same happened when the Light Reaction Company was stood up.
Part of the jealousy may also have come from the fact that LRC was getting state of the art weapons and equipment. The LRC, “had all the good stuff, top-of-the-line-gear. Whatever the B/1/1 guys had, the LRB [LRC/LRR] had. It was pretty much the same,” Llamas said. The new unit also conducted interoperability exercises with US Special Forces to ensure that they could work together in a joint environment if it became necessary.
“Because you’re the new kid, you’re going to ask for personnel from Special Forces, Rangers, and in competition for equipment like radios, NODs, transportation, and barracks space. We were in a compound that was earmarked for another unit,” Dizon explained. The high-end kit did come in, purchased with a grant provided by the US government. Additional funds from the Armed Forces of the Philippines proved to be difficult to secure.
The LRC had been born, but still had to prove its capabilities in the field. Their chance would come before the unit’s first generation of operators were done with their training course.