In the dead of night, close to 400 Filipino police commandos comprising the country’s Special Action Force (SAF) moved into position. Their target: Malaysian national Zulkifli bin Hir, aka “Marwan.” A hardcore member of Indonesia’s Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), Marwan was believed killed in 2012 by what was most likely a drone strike coordinated with U.S. forces. After the strike, SAF combed the area, finding body parts strewn across the jungle, but could not confirm Marwan as being among the dead. It was several years before it was discovered that the JI terrorist was alive and well. Acting on intelligence from local assets, the Philippine National Police Special Action Force executed “Oplan Wolverine” at 3 am on the 25th of January.

Sources inform SOFREP that the SAF assault force entered and cleared a series of three huts where Marwan was supposed to be bedding down for the night. Receiving gunfire, it has been reported that the assaulters summarily eliminated Marwan. The SAF men then took photographs of the body for evidence and considered cutting off his hand to bring back as well until their commanding officer ordered them to bag up the corpse and take it with them.

Meanwhile, at a nearby location, a SAF blocking force got hit hard by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) with whom Marwan had worked. The SAF element was located there to help isolate the objective area, but soon become encircled in a cornfield, their backs to a river, which prevented a tactical withdrawal. The SAF was then engaged in a 13-hour-long firefight with BIFF, losing 44 police officers in the process. In order to maintain the operational security around Oplan Wolverine, the Filipino military was not informed of the mission until it was already underway. Under fire, isolated, and alone, there would be no reinforcements sent to aid the SAF officers.

Also not informed of the police operation to take out Marwan was the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).  Although it is unclear who first fired on who, MILF terrorists also jumped into the fray during the 13-hour firefight, jeopardizing ongoing peace negotiations between them and the Filipino government, facilitated by the United States.

U.S. Special Forces involvement

Oplan Wolverine targeted Marwan in Maguindanao, a province of Mindinao in the southern Philippines. SOFREP has covered this troubled region in the past, including the Massacre of Maguindanao, which resulted in the largest mass slaying of journalists in world history. In response to the growing threat of Islamic fundamentalism in the Philippines, 1st Special Forces Group took an active approach in mentoring Filipino forces and directing them against enemy forces.

The U.S. Army’s First Special Forces Group (Airborne) (1st SFG(A)) was present and active in the Philippines prior to the events of 9/11. In fact, from March to July 2001, elements of 1st Battalion, 1st SFG(A) had been conducting an advisory assistance mission with the AFP and were helping them in developing plans to target terrorist organizations, specifically the ASG. These assistance efforts continued in earnest following the May 21, 2001 ASG kidnapping of more than a dozen wealthy Filipinos and three American citizens, including a missionary couple, from a resort on the Island of Palawan. The ASG transported the hostages to their jungle stronghold on the island of Basilan and held them for ransom. In the aftermath of 9/11, these events led SOCPAC, USPACOM, the State Department, and ultimately the Bush administration to seize an opportunity to expand the GWOT and to more aggressively target the ASG by establishing Operation ENDURING FREEDOM-PHILIPPINES (OEF-P), which officially commenced in early 2002. (Farris)