'Majority' of 'Oplan Exodus' survivors leave SAF 6 months later

MANILA, Philippines – They survived a “suicide mission” once and they have no plans of risking their lives again.

Almost 6 months after close to 400 Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Action Force (SAF) troopers entered the treacherous terrain of Mamasapano in Maguindanao, a majority of survivors from the elite company that served as the main striking force have laid down their commando uniforms. (READ: Cheat sheet: The truths and lies of Mamasapano)

Members of the 84th Special Action Company (SAC) or the “Seaborne” have since requested to be transferred to different units within the PNP, SAF chief Director Moro Lazo told Rappler in a chance interview on Thursday, July 16.

“[They are now] outside of SAF already. [Majority] requested to be moved,” said Lazo.

“Of course, their primary reason is that they would not like to push their luck too far. Kung baga, meron silang: okay na, kung baga, tama na rin,” added Lazo. (They’re probably thinking: we’re okay, we’ve done enough.)

The 84th SAC is the PNP’s “elite of the elite.” It’s the company that is best-trained and best-equipped within SAF, the PNP’s elite striking force.

Elite commandos who typically undergo training from their US counterparts, the Seaborne were tasked to be the lead striking force during “Oplan Exodus,” a January 25 SAF operation intended to neutralize Indonesian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir (alias “Marwan”) and Filipino bomb maker Abdul Basit Usman.

“Oplan Exodus” is one of the bloodiest operations in the PNP’s 24-year history to date. Forty-four SAF troopers were killed in the fields of Mamasapano, in what turned out to be a botched, ill-planned operation. At least 3 civilians and up to 18 Muslim rebels were also killed as a result of the operation. (READ: Oplan Exodus defective, 'heavily influenced by Napeñas')

It was the Seaborne who braved the swift waters of barangay Tukanalipao’s rivers with the aim of either arresting or killing the two terrorists.

But things would not go according to plan the morning of January 25. Unaccustomed to Mamasapano’s terrain and weighed down by their equipment, the Seaborne arrived at the target zone hours later than scheduled.

After killing Marwan, the troopers found themselves in intense and close-range skirmishes with Marwan and Usman’s men.

The company assigned to be their main back-up, the 55th SAC, was also engaged a few kilometers away, but with Muslim rebels who call Mamasapano home. Local fights, coupled with the terrain, which provided no cover and barely any concealment, were no match to the SAF troopers.

All but one of the 36 members of the 55th SAC died during the firefight, while the Seaborne lost 9 of its men.

Lazo declined to say exactly how many of the Seaborne asked to be moved out of SAF. He did say, however, that they were replaced right away.

“We were able to replenish them, but of course, hindi pa naman full strength pero siguro (we’re not yet at full-strength but it's) almost enough,” he said. – Rappler.com