Vanguard (Lagos)

5 September 2014

Nigeria: Capture of Borno Towns - Reputation of Nigeria's Military At Stake - U.S.

Photo: This Day
Armed Boko Haram members.

ABUJA -- The United States of America warned yesterday that the reputation of Nigeria's military was at stake while the future of the country and her children was in jeopardy following the capture of some towns in the north eastern part of the country in the last few weeks by Boko Haram terrorists.

This came as Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, revealed that for the country to win the war against terrorism, there was the need for diplomatic lobbying for foreign assistance in areas of equipment.

Also, yesterday, the Federal Government assured that no Nigerian Soldier would die in vain, even as a retired general, now a Senator, Ahmed Saleh said the battle against insurgency was far from being over, saying "what we are seeing is a complete deterioration of the situation."

US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Amb. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who expressed deep concerns of her country on the activities of the Islamic sect in the country while participating in the International Conference on Security in Abuja, declared that failure was not an option.

The militants on Monday reportedly took Bama, 70 kilometres (45 miles) from the Borno State capital, Maiduguri, where 10,000 youths, former soldiers and police gathered on Thursday, vowing to push back the advance. Multiple testimonies from residents, who have been fleeing Bama all week, contradicted military claims that soldiers still held the town.

"The truth is that Boko Haram fighters are in firm control of Bama," said one resident, Muhammadu Mai Tumatur, who escaped to Maiduguri.

"They have occupied the military barracks and the palace of the emir and they have hoisted their flags in both places. There is not a single soldier in the town. The gunmen are in control."

Hundreds of soldiers abandoned their posts, some crossing the border into Cameroon, although the military said they had not fled but were conducting "tactical manoeuvres" that crossed the frontier.

Before the capture of Bama, Borno's second largest town last Monday, the militants had seized Gamboru Ngala, Buni Yadi in Yobe State and Madagali in Adamawa, with Nigerian troops seemingly unable to match their firepower.

Other towns reportedly taken over by the terrorists include Gwoza, Banki, and Bara.

The US envoy, however, warned that Boko Haram constituted a serious threat to Nigeria and her neighbours and must be viewed in that light, as according to her, the claimed capture of towns by Boko Haram indicated a "steadily worsening" security situation.

Failure not an option -- US

Her words: "We are very troubled by the apparent capture of Bama and the prospects for an attack on and in Maiduguri, which would impose a tremendous toll on the civilian population. All of these developments are deeply disturbing, and increasingly dangerous with each passing day. The reputation of Nigeria's military is at stake. But more importantly, Nigeria's and its children's future is in jeopardy. Failure is not an option".

Ms. Thomas-Greenfield said Washington would soon announce the launch of a major border security programme, which will include Nigeria and its neighbours -- Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

She added that the stakes were high after experts warned that the government risked losing control of the north-east and the violence could spread across borders.

There has been a controversy over whether or not the military forces were able to successfully repel the insurgents which seized Gwoza and declared it a caliphate. It was reported that the insurgents have been targeting Maiduguri, the state capital which is only about 70 kilometers from Bama, leading to the imposition of a curfew in the ancient town by the military.

Bama residents said heavily armed militants were roaming the town and had until now spared civilians.

One of them, Mustapha Tor, said a "large number" of troops were in Kawuri, 20 kilometres away, although they had not mounted a counter-attack. Most people had left because of previous atrocities, he added.

"We know what they did in Gwoza and Gamboru Ngala, where they told residents they could stay but later turned and killed them," Tor said.

In Maiduguri, youths, local hunters armed with home-made guns and bows and arrows as well as former soldiers and police, promised to fight the militants and end the insurgency.

The state co-ordinator of the civilian vigilantes, Mallam Abba Aji Kalli, said: "We are optimistic that with our gora (sticks in Hausa) and other local arms, we will raid all terrorist hideouts and kill them when given permission by the federal government."

We need foreign assistance on equipment--CDS

Meanwhile, the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh has revealed that for the country to win the war against terrorism, there was the need for diplomatic lobbying for foreign assistance in areas of equipment.

But the Senator representing Kaduna Central, Senator Mohammed Saleh said it was impossible for the military to win the terror war with the present obsolete equipment and the alleged fraud in Ministry of Defence and the armed services.

Senator Saleh said that after the Gideon Okar coup of 1990, during the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida, the military was systematically and comprehensively disarmed which now makes it impossible for the army to effectively confront any external aggression.

Speaking at the National Assembly Joint Committee on Defence yesterday, the Chief of Defence Staff said that since the declaration of state of emergency in the three North East states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, the Armed Forces had been engaged in a sustained operation against the terrorists.

According to Air Marshal Badeh: "In the last one month, troops have sustained on-going offensive operations both in and outside7th Division areas of operation to shape the theatre, establish fighting positions and limiting Boko Haram freedom of movement within the area of operation.

"Significantly, troops are currently carrying out unlimited offensive operations aimed at denying Boko haram freedom of action and from achieving its aim to isolate and control areas around Maiduguri.

"Additionally, the involvement of the international community, which led to the establishment of the joint planning committee on May 12, 2014, the initial mandate of the joint coordination and planning committee which is championed by America and Britain was the fusion of intelligence for the rescue of abducted Chibok girls.

"But this gradually is being extended to other aspects of the operations. I want to state here that the military is highly engaged in operations in view of achieving favourable outcomes.

"Moreover, the continued attacks by the terrorists justify the imposition and extension of state of emergency because there is no alternative. Let me just say that Nigerians need not lose hope in the military but continue to support her in a bid to defeat the terrorists.

"Secondly, all other elements of national power should contribute more in support of military operations. Right now, the element of national power we are using is the military. Other elements of national power are not being engaged sufficiently.

"There is also the need for diplomatic lobbying for our foreign partners to provide more assistance in areas of equipment and whatever they can give us."

Security situation is deteriorating--Sen. Saleh

But a member of the Senate Joint National Assembly Committee on Defence and an All Progressives Congress Senator from Kaduna Central, Senator Ahmed Saleh appeared to have dashed the hope of the military winning the war against terrorism even as he said that the situation was getting worse on daily basis.

Senator Saleh, a retired general said: "What I am going to say is based on my experience as an insider. Our duty here as senators of the Federal Republic transcends the extension of state of emergency. Our duty of oversight should ensure that high standards must be maintained in addition to acquiring all necessary equipment required to maintain a strong force.

"When the Chief of Defence Staff was appointed in January this year, the service chiefs made a categorical statement that within three months they will crush Boko haram. But unfortunately, what we are seeing is a complete deterioration of the situation, so it is incumbent on us to find out why that deterioration. We have heard about our soldiers' mutiny, it is also our responsibility to find out why that is happening.

"For us to understand why that is happening, we need to go back to the Babangida (Gen. Ibrahim Babangida) era. After the 1990 Okar coup, the Federal Government of Nigeria systematically and comprehensively disarmed the military.

"All the tanks, all the artillery guns were disarmed and locked up. All the aircraft were parked in Ilorin and other places, flying stopped, training stopped to ensure regime security, not national security.

"All the good officers of the Nigerian Army were hounded out of the military. There was over concentration of power at the centre which was the army headquarters. Prior to that, General Officers Commanding, GOCs, used to have training and manouvre grants.

"They had the power and responsibility to train their troops and battalions and to ensure an efficient logistics and service support system. All that stopped. Everything was from Army headquarters, everything was from Air Force headquarters, everything was from Naval headquarters.

"The attendant result was decay. Training was no longer going on at the battalion level, soldiers lost their skills and since then, no additional military equipment was purchased for the Nigerian Army. Even things as little as machine guns were in short supply, ammunition was in short supply.

"An individual soldier's professional skill was to be a matchman, to shoot and hit his target but can he do that if he has no ammunition? We have a duty to rebuild this army, to rebuild the armed forces, and unless we understand these basic facts, we are not going anywhere.

"Also, after some time the fighting doctrine of the Nigerian Army was changed. We were essentially brought up by the British. That means we knew how much materials we had, the tasks before us and so on. But along the line during the Obasanjo (Chief Olusegun Obasanjo) regime, General Obasanjo brought Americans here and our doctrine approach was changed to warfare.

"I make bold to tell you that up till today nobody understands that. I know it is a strategic concept of warfare but in Nigeria we are applying it to the operational and tactical level. It has created a lot of confusion within our army.

"Apart from that, our involvement in foreign operations and the kind of training we give to our soldiers for operations was a kind of defensive posture. You don't kill until you are killed, you don't attack until you are attacked.

"That also helped to change the orientation of some of our soldiers. Then again, I must mention here (alleged) fraud within the Ministry of Defence, fraud within the military service systems themselves has contributed a lot to diminishing our fighting capability.

"Further to that again, we have the issue of our combat service support. Because of (alleged) fraudulent activities, we monetized everything. Our supply services, our medical services are completely inefficient and are unable to support the fighting in the North East now. Right now, I stand to question how our soldiers are being fed."

Our soldiers won't die in vain -- FG

Meanwhile, the Federal Government vowed yesterday that it will do everything within its powers to ensure that the heroic sacrifices being made by members of the armed forces prosecuting the battle to flush out Boko Haram insurgency from our country as well as protecting the territorial integrity were not in vain.

Making the disclosure at the inauguration of the 2014 Armed Forces Remembrance Day Celebration planning committee in Abuja, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Alhaji Aliyu Ismaila noted this year's celebration will be especially significant because the Armed Forces have shown tremendous commitment and passion towards uniting the country and keeping it as one indivisible entity.

Represented by Alhaji Babayo Shehu, the Permanent Secretary said, "We are celebrating the heroic sacrifices made by these men and women in restoring and defending the sovereignty of our nation. This also includes those who have sacrificed their lives in the development of the armed forces and the country at large like those gallant officers and men that lost their lives in the fight against insurgency in the North Eastern axis of the country".

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