I sat across from a Light Reaction Regiment operator at a restaurant where we tried in vain to escape some of the humidity.  He’s smoking a cigarette while we discuss his unit and their operations.  He is a quiet man, quick to tell me that his job is to execute the mission rather than complain about the burden of his responsibilities and just as quick to credit other Special Operations and conventional forces for their contributions to the fight against the many threat groups facing the Philippine Armed Forces.  When I ask about a rumor I had heard about his unit conducting a High Value Target strike mission disguised as a wedding procession he smiles a little bit.  That’s when I know I’m on the right track.

In a previous interview I had talked to General Danilo Pamonag, the current Philippine SOCOM commander who also commanded the Light Reaction Regiment on two separate occasions.  We had talked about how the human and geographical terrain of the Philippines makes for a difficult operational environment for their Special Operations units.

“The biggest challenge we have as special operators is how sneak into the operational area because every time we move out of our camp the civilians would always see us, hear the noise of our vehicles, and blood is thicker than water so they will try to pass on information that there is military going,” Pamonag said.  Sometimes those passing on information are enemy agents, other times they are just family members communicating with one another, but either way the cat is out of the bag and word eventually gets to the enemy.  “It is the hardest part of our mission, finding our enemy and putting our troops there undetected,” the SOCOM commander elaborated.

When the Light Reaction Regiment deploys by airplane or boat, they are often observed disembarking at the airport or the wharf.  Within twenty-four hours, everyone knows that a new Special Operations Force is in town.  Operators are airborne qualified, but they are hesitant to infiltrate the target area by parachute because they will also be noticed in the air and then the enemy will close around them.  Meanwhile, those troops will have little access to mutually supporting fires from other units or air support.  Helicopters over another alternative, but the noise of the rotor blades also tips off hostiles of incoming commandos.

“You have to strike a balance between mass and mobility.  That is how we tailor fit the TTPs [Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures] we use. We study the enemy first,” the Light Reaction Regiment operator sitting across from me in the restaurant explains.  For the purposes of this article we will refer to him as Harold, an alias to protect his identity.  In 2014, Harold was deployed to the island of Sulu with the 1st Light Reaction Company.  He had recently come back from training in Australia with the Special Air Service Regiment and then almost immediately deployed to Sulu.  1st LRC was preparing to be redeployed back home when an intelligence officer came to them asking if they would like to roll out on one final hit before leaving.

The target was #7 of the their Abu Sayyaf target deck: Sihata Latip.  Wanted for kidnapping 21 people in Malaysia in 2000, he went on to conduct a string of kidnappings in the Philippines over subsequent years.  As the Philippines got better at countering terrorism, the Abu Sayyaf Group was cut off from overseas international terrorist finance networks, particularly those originating in Saudi Arabia.  In order to make up for this loss in income, they engage in kidnapping for ransom as their livelihood.

“Right then and there we decided we were in, payback is a bitch,” Harold said.

Intel had been monitoring a motorcycle gang and discovered that Sihata Latip was running a gambling ring based around motorcycle drag races in Sulu.  They estimated that there would be approximately 50 civilians at the next drag race, along with Latip and an Abu Sayyaf bodyguard.