On May 23rd, 4th Light Reaction Company operators alongside a company of Scout-Rangers quietly approached the hideout of terrorist leader Isnilon Hapilon.  The Philippine armed services had been conducting a long-term surveillance operation on the terrorist safe house, located among a small cluster of homes along a road on the outskirts of Marawi.  The U.S. Special Forces-trained Philippine troops closed the distance, their breacher attaching what is known as a “water impulse charge” to the six-foot high front gate in order to explosively enter the structure and initiate the raid.  The concrete three-story building had been specifically chosen by the Abu Sayyaf sub-commander for its defensive features.  It was located on a road so narrow that one car could hardly pass at a time, which formed a choke point.

The 4th LRC operators initiated the explosive breach, gained entry to the safe house, and a firefight broke out on the ground floor.  While the firefight raged, Hapilon managed to escape.  What the operators did not know at the time was that they had just disrupted the planning of the most large-scale and deadly terrorist attack in their country’s history.  For months, Hapilon had been working with the Maute Group to establish themselves as an ISIS affiliate in the Philippines, a so-called “wilayat,” or a province in the ISIS caliphate.  The city of Marawi is almost entirely Muslim and combined with other social factors; the Maute Group was unopposed as they planned a massive terrorist operation which included establishing weapons caches around the city.

While the media has largely reported that the May 23rd raid triggered the Marawi siege, the military uncovered a much larger plot by the Maute Group to raid not just Marawi, but also the 103rd Brigade Headquarters, the towns of Iligan, Cagayan de Oro and other outlying areas.  The 4th LRC direct action raid forced Hapilon to move up his time-table, allowing him to only execute a portion of what he was planning.

“The assault on May 23 prevented the grand plan of Maute-ISIS to establish a wilayat and initiate attacks in different cities as they normally do in Iraq and Syria,” said Major General Danilo Pamonag, the commander of Philippine Special Operations Command who later took control of the overall operation to restore order in Marawi in an exclusive interview with SOFREP.

The Siege of Marawi

Jihadist groups in the Philippines once enjoyed financing from trans-national terrorist networks in the Middle East.  In the 1990s there was a confluence of events and circumstances which led to groups like Abu Sayyaf receiving funding from Saudi Arabians through shady NGO cutouts.  Due to the hard work of Philippine security forces, these terrorists were separated from their sources of funding.  This inadvertently led to the creation of a kidnapping-for-ransom culture among various terrorist organizations in the Philippines as they sought new sources of financing their lifestyle.  With the outbreak of a full-blown terrorist caliphate in the Middle East, a so-called Islamic State, terror group leaders like Hapilon likely had dollar signs in their eyes and made moves to attract ISIS financing as so many others have in the Middle East and Africa.

Regarding this phenomena, a Philippine Scout-Ranger officer commented to SOFREP that, “We observe that these insurgents are no longer motivated by their ideology but that this is something they do as their livelihood.”

Philippine marines pause behind a wall prior to proceeding to the frontline in the continuing assaults to retake control of some areas of Marawi city Sunday, May 28, 2017 in southern Philippines. Philippine forces launched fresh airstrikes Sunday to drive out militants linked to the Islamic State group after days of fighting left corpses in the streets and hundreds of civilians begging for rescue from a besieged southern city. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Maj. Gen. Pamonag elaborated on this saying,