The Government of the Phillippines is engaged in what is increasingly becoming a much harder fight than anticipated in the city of Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao. Numerous security forces are involved in the fight to include Philippine Infantry units, Marines, SF, and most recently U.S. Special Operations are being thrown into the fray. In addition to the local so-called Islamic State group (Maute Group) lead by two brothers, we have had much media attention focused on this entire dynamic and we haven’t taken a look at the Marawi fight yet on TFB. The International Business Times has an excellent slide show where their reporters took a number of high-resolution photographs of the fighting on the Government forces side. We’ll be examining the small arms capabilities of the government forces in a forthcoming post.
The Maute Group fighters currently appear to be working off of completely captured or illegally acquired Philippine Armed Forces weaponry. This has lead to a somewhat confusing dynamic in which both sides of a conflict are essentially using the exact same weapon systems. Of course, Kalashnikovs are used by both sides all over the MENA region, but what we are seeing here is that mostly M16s and M60s are being used by both sides almost exclusively, in addition to coming from probably many of the same armories.
This video distributed by the so-called Islamic State’s Amaq news agency is particularly useful in gaining information about the Maute group. Apart from the rifles and medium machine guns shown, of particular note is the .50 BMG M2 at the end, mounted on the technical. First of all, the mount itself appears to be improvised and not an issued piece that could have been captured. But more importantly, the reader will notice that the ‘Fifty’ is being fired a single shot at a time. This is very common among insurgent groups or poorly trained militaries armed with M2s because it is simply a case of not having completed their proper head space and timing. The heavy machine gun is perfectly capable of fully automatic fire given that it is in proper working condition and has been cared for, so there is no reason for these M2s not to be firing automatically.
In this particular photograph of one of the brothers of the group planning for the operation, Abdullah Maute and has what appears to be a Glock 19 with an extended magazine. The lack of any printed maps on the table, the fact that the organization seems to be mostly 20-somethings, and the enormous casualties the group has been taking are a testament to the poor tactical control that the group has. The fighters appear to put up stiff resistance but you can’t win an armed conflict on intestinal fortitude alone.
The M60s and M16s in use by IS all appear to be earlier models, some A1s and A2s compared to the Army and PMC’s M4s and picatinny rail mounted variants. M60s are the older variants with the bipods mounted to the longer barrels than on E3 version. These screengrabs are from the organization Terror Monitor–
In this particular scene, someone has mounted a magnified optic to the carrying handle of an M4. Because this usually isn’t standard issue, this is probably an aftermarket accessory. Also notice the A2 style handguard mounted above the M203 UBGL, signifying that this might be a battlefield capture as we’ve seen several M4s and M16A2s with mounted UBGLs in use by Government forces that bear this resemblance today.
The earlier mentioned M2. A recent news source stated that “Our troops on ground zero were able to seize a sizable arms cache from the area of operation and the number of firearms numbering more than 20, if I recall, and these are not ordinary firearms but high-powered firearms”. The official might be referring to captured M2s as “high-powered” firearms. That, or M203 UBGLs.
An older M60, notice the bipods attached directly to the barrel, just underneath the front sight post. In addition to extremist doctrine, the Maute brothers appear to have imported time proven combat marksmanship practices of the so-called Islamic State as well. According to this source, over 240 Maute group members have been killed in almost a month of fighting, compared to less than 60 government soldiers. This must lead to a very “fluid” chain of command situation for the Maute group leaders…
Captured arms as published on the Daily Mail show a number of completely different supply channels, from black market goods, captured weapons, and even a fair amount of legally purchasable accessories and firearms.
Notice the lever action rifle, and the after-market accessories mounted on the AR15s and what appears to be an M14 in a commercial stock. The weapon left of the lever action could be an improvised suppressor, but is somewhat difficult to identify at this angle.
Filipino reporter Raffy Tima on Twitter posted these in-depth shots of various captured rifles in use by the group. Notice the Spike’s Tactical lower, and Bushmaster rifle.
Apart from the small arms threat, possibly the single worst capability that the Maute group could bring to the fight is the use of SVBIEDs, as they have been so effective in Iraq. However, given that government forces are finding massive amounts of drugs as they liberate the city, it appears that the Philipino radicals are simply not on the same fundamental playing field as their Syria based brethren.