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Basilan: Failure of the ‘elite command’ structure

By NEWSBREAK

MANILA, Philippines — The military plans to drop its elite command structure in Basilan following operational blunders that led to the killing of 19 officers and men in the town of Al-Barka, a known territory of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf, Move.PH learned today. Replacing the Basilan Special Operations Task Force (SOTF) will be an Army infantry brigade, according to three senior military officers privy to the cialis generico 2013 plan. The brigade will retain the current forces there–one Special Forces battalion, one Rangers battalion, and one infantry battalion– but unlike in the past, they will now be under the command and control of an infantry officer and staff. This is somewhat a vindication for some key officers who had opposed last year’s high-level decision to turn Basilan into an operational area for the Army’s fighting elite, the Special Operations Command (Socom), which is composed of the Special Forces and the Rangers. The special operations structure in Basilan under the SOTF was one of its kind in the country. It turned elite maneuver forces under the Socom based in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, into a territorial unit, an experiment that was approved by the defense and military leaderships after Army chief Lt. Gen. Arturo Ortiz assumed office in July last year. Thus from August to November last year, the high command started pulling out the Marines from the province. The SOTF was fully set up by December. Big push from bosses Officers we interviewed have various explanations for this move. The defense and military leaderships were convinced that conventional forces, like the Marines, had ceased to be effective in Basilan. They also thought that since Basilan had been cleared of key conflict areas, the province was viagra multiple intercourse ripe for special operations by units cialis online pharmacy with specialized skills. But the same sources say the key factor behind this force restructuring was the big push from key officials led by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Ortiz. The two had commanded the Special Forces at one point in their careers. (Ortiz is retiring on Nov. 13.) When the Basilan blunder occurred on Oct. 18, the SOTF was only in actual operation for 10 months; its troops were previously based in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, a free viagra sample pack terrain completely different from Basilan’s. In fact, Lt. Col. Leo Pena, the commander of the battalion that led the fatal attack, was assigned in Basilan only last July, or three months ago. As commander of the 4th Special Forces battalion, Pena plotted the attack at Al-Barka, deploying students armed merely with M-16s and M-14s and failing to coordinate his attack with other units that would have backed them up, according to an ongoing investigation on the incident. His immediate superior, Basilan SOTF commander Col. Alex Macario, has told reporters he was merely “informed” by Pena about his plan, and that by then it was too late. Both Macario and Pena had been relieved from their posts. Reports say Pena’s other superior based in Fort Magsaysay, Col. Aminkadra Undug, the Special Forces regiment commander, apparently was also involved in the planning of the attack (Read Maria Ressa’s piece about it here) Before this elite command set-up, Basilan was for decades run by territorial units, such as an Army or Marine brigade, which then used a fighting force (either Rangers or Special Forces) for major attacks. Confusion “They (defense and military leaderships) had wanted to carve out an area where the SF (Special Forces) could play a more major role in Mindanao,” said a senior headquarters general who spoke on condition of anonymity. “All of a sudden, they (SF) wanted to operate.” Socom, to which the Special Forces and the Rangers belong, is a “force provider.” In short, Special Forces and Rangers are on call for any deployment to any area. They’re not supposed to singlehandedly man operational commands. On the contrary, as maneuver forces, they’re supposed to be at the beck and call of these commands. As “direct action forces,” the Rangers and the Special Forces are not trained for non-combat work crucial in fighting the enemy, such as civil-military operations, explains a general. compare viagra and cialis prices They are not trained to create the conditions for an attack, because they are taught to just attack, fight, withdraw, he adds. And they usually come in small teams. That’s why the usual set-up in a conflict area is for an infantry brigade to be the operational command center, which will then utilize either Special Forces or the Rangers for their surgical strikes and special operations. Especially in an area like Basilan, government troops are perfectly aware of the nature of the enemy there: that once the military attacks, the entire affected community rises up in arms. Thus the need for more planning and coordination, and not just surprise attacks by a skilled unit. The military has had this on-again, off-again debate on doing away with this conventional doctrine in specific areas. Last year, however, the elite command advocates got support from leaders who had come from the Special Forces themselves. The transition to the non-conventional SOTF was apparently not smooth. For example, the next question after its set-up was operational control. It was decided that the SOTF would report directly to the Army’s 1st infantry division, not the AFP Western Mindanao Command, which is 20mg cialis vs 100mg viagra based in Zamboanga City. The 1st division, however, is based farther away, in Pagadian, Zamboanga del Sur. Yet, Socom also had its own chain of command–all the way to Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, its regiment headquarters. “Ang gulo, gulo doon,” says one of the senior cialis on sale online officers tasked to investigate the Basilan fiasco. “Of course, they’re saying that had the operation succeeded, it would have been a plus for the Special Forces. We tell them, but it failed!” We learned from another senior general that the decision to put a brigade in Basilan was made by the high command as early as two months ago, but that this was delayed due to problem areas in Lanao del Norte, the base of the brigade that was to be moved to island. Sources say Army Col. Ricardo Visaya, the commander of the 104th infantry brigade based in Lanao del Norte, has been told of his new assignment in Basilan. He will be bringing in about 100 troops to man the headquarters. And he will be commanding the existing elite forces there provided by Socom. - Newsbreak

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