TURNING POINT: The Military Semantics on Intelligence and the Marawi Crisis

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 31 May) – Defense Secretary Lorenzana does not consider the ongoing Marawi crisis as resulting from a failure of intelligence but from a misappreciation of military intelligence. The semantics, regardless, the fact remains that there was gross negligence in the command, resulting to a costly inaction that failed to prevent the preventable Marawi situation.

The Maute terrorists are known to camp in the interiors of Butig. The military is aware of this. In fact, the command claimed a few months back that the AFP had overrun and destroyed the terrorist camp.

But the destroy-occupy-abandon military stratagem did not evidently work to finish off the Lanao-developed terrorists. Again. (Remember Camp Abubakar in the Estrada all-out war against the MILF?) The Mautes were back, apparently allowed to retake and restore their camp through military negligence, and thereupon strengthen their ranks and reinforce their firepower.

Butig is 47 km away from Marawi City. The two places are separated by an open body of water, Lake Lanao, the second biggest lake in the country. The Lake Lanao paved circumferential road, on the other hand, connects Butig, a sixth class municipality, to the City of Marawi.

Given such landscape or terrain, any unusual developments in the area are obviously observable. A blockade could have been easily established to prevent the movement of terrorist militias and their heavy arms and ammo into the City, if military intelligence was working, that is if those assigned to monitor the situation and do surveillance in the area were not remiss of their task.

The military intelligence was definitely not in place. That explains why the Maute guerillas were able to establish command posts in Marawi and are still entrenched in the Islamic City after almost a week of fighting.

Now the terrorists are engaging the military in an urban guerilla warfare. The military is responding with usual conventional war strategy. The game is to overwhelm and overcome the enemy by throwing waves and waves of ground assault soldiers into the battle zone, supported with tanks and armored vehicles and fighter planes and attack helicopters that drop lethal bombs without qualms on ground targets.

Needless to say, the movie-like shock and awe stratagem gravely harm the civilians who are trapped in the war zone. A number had already been wounded or killed. Many are being displaced and dislocated. Children, women and the elderly and infirmed are now agonizing in overcrowded evacuation centers. Valuable properties are lost and destroyed.

Marawi City is now ruined more by friendly force than by the enemy in the desperate effort to flush out the Mautes from the City. This reminds us of the devastation of Manila when the returning Americans heavily bombed the city to annihilate the defiant Japanese.

Some observers are saying that we should stop criticizing Martial Law and focus instead our attention and effort to helping the government find a solution to the Marawi situation. That is impossible because Martial Law is the very solution the President of the Republic has chosen and cast to solve the Marawi crisis. We insist that it’s an inappropriate, if not a terribly wrong solution to the war on terror; hence we can’t stop talking about it. To drive the point a little further, we ask the question: Is there any difference in the government’s approach to the war on terror before and now that Martial Law has been imposed in Mindanao, taking the Marawi situation, which is the military rule’s reason for being, as a test case?

Except for the sprouting of many military checkpoints not only in the highways of two Lanaos but throughout Mindanao, the combat scenario has remained the same: generally conventional versus guerilla warfare.

Do checkpoints help in any way?

Unless a Maute terrorist has lost his brains in the Marawi siege, he would never pass through checkpoints, wearing his uniform, brandishing his weapon and waving his ISIS flag in eluding the hunt of his pursuers.

Suffice it to say that unless we recognize our mistakes and missteps, no fresh ideas will be forthcoming to come close as a solution to any problem before us.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)