17 September 2018

Nigeria: Concern Over Resurgence of Boko Haram Attacks in North-East

Photo: This Day
Nigerian army.

Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the recent resurgence of Boko Haram attacks in the North-east, which is specifically targeted at military formations, undermine repeated claims by the military that the group has been decimated

In the past few months, there has been a consistent resurgence and escalation of Boko Haram Terrorists (BHTs) attacks in the North-east, which is specifically targeted at military formations. Already the renewed onslaught by BHT forces have claimed hundreds of lives, especially that of soldiers, who are the first buffer in the line of attack.

It is no gainsaying that the intensified and repeated attacks on military targets and formations in recent months undermine the claims by the military that Boko Haram sect had been decimated. For years, and even in recent times, the military has maintained that the rampaging forces have been contained with the numerous successes they recorded, but the recent resurgence has put paid to those claims.

Although Boko Haram no longer controls swathes of territory in the NE as it did in the height of insurgency in 2014, the recent attacks on military bases underscores the continued threat the group pose to the region, which also puts the spotlight on the government's continuous mantra that Boko Haram is decimated.

Note that globally, the threat posed by terrorism due to violent extremism and insurgency have been a boiling issue in the last two decades. This has posed a challenge to different countries as they churn out measures fighting terrorism or preventing its spread and minimising its effects on its citizenry.

In this regard, nations have evolved various approaches to tackle the menace with mixed results depending on the country and nature of the threat. Nigeria has not been an exception with the rise of the Boko Haram that assumed international notoriety in 2009. According to estimate by the National Emergency Management Agency, the BHTs insurgency has killed over 20,000 people with over 2-5 bmillion persons displaced.

Regrouping Boko Haram Forces

Perhaps the regrouping of the BHT did not take the military by surprise as is being reported. This is because in July, the Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, Major General Rogers Nicholas, had revealed that some of the BHT forces were regrouping around Bama Local Government Area of Borno State. This was after some of the terrorists attacked the military troops in Bama village.

Recently, areas like Sambisa, Mandara mountains, the Dikwa/Gamboru axis, Jilli, Garunda, Zari, Gudunbali have been victims of regrouping BHTs. In fact, THISDAY had last week Monday written on the unending war on terror and recent strategies by the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) in constituting a new team of young and zealous air strikes to man the newly inaugurated Operation Thunder Strike.

Notwithstanding, it's no gainsaying that the war against terror seems unending as world over, the military and security forces battle one major challenge: regrouping terror forces. Although Nigeria continues to suffer the same fate in its fight against Boko Haram Terrorits, there is no doubt that the Nigerian Armed Forces have considerably recordered some successes by reclaiming lost grounds, pushing them back into the arid desert and sometimes, even crippling their sources of weaponry.

But despite these measures, the terrorists have kept inventing new strategies to stay afloat. While they have been sacked from the caliphates they had arrogated to themselves, they still unleash pockets of violence in some areas, especially through suicide bombing, and most recently, the resurgence and attacks of military targets and formations.

Series of Attacks

From Jilli to Garunda, Zari, Gudunbali,Sambisa, Mandara mountains and the Dikwa/Gamboru axis, amongst others have witnessed fresh attacks. On July 14, the terrorists overran a military base in Jilli village, in neighbouring Yobe State when dozens of troops were said to have been killed, wounded or missing. The group suspected to be loyal to Abu Mus'ab Al-Barnawi, who is affiliated with the Islamic State group, attacked the base unhindered.

Although the army conceded the base was attacked, they did not however, give a death toll, rather insisting that the troops regrouped and successfully repelled the attack.

On July 26, the sect again stormed a base on the outskirts of Maiduguri, Borno State. The base was situated at Garunda village and had just been set up for troops from the 81 Brigade who had hitherto been stationed in Jilli village and forced to move after the July 14 assault.

After that attack, there was a lull in attack of military bases as the military launched joint assaults on the terrorists, forcing them to retreat further into the hinterlands.

But on August 10, they regrouped again and killed about 17 soldiers at the Garunda military base, the third assault on three bases in less than a month. The terrorists were said to have been heavily armed when they struck and succeeded in looting weapons and more vehicles.

On September 2, the BHT forces were said to have killed 30 soldiers and sacked Zari, a border settlement with Niger Republic in Borno State. The soldiers were killed in a battle with Boko Haram insurgents at Zari Village, which is actually about 30 kilometres from Damasak, the headquarters of Mobbar Local Government Area. According to reports, the insurgents had stormed the village at about 4:30pm and wrecked their brand of havoc. Asides the 30 soldiers that were killed, reports also put the casualty figure of injured soldiers at 20.

Although the raid was seemingly contained, the troops however suffered a colossal loss that saw the insurgents cart away sensitive weapons abandoned by fleeing troops. Given that the gun duel lasted for hours between the military and the insurgents, the soldiers were overpowered and a fighter jet was deployed from the base to give aerial cover, a move that saved a badly deteriorating situation.

But the military in a statement said the opposite happened. According to the statement, the troops fought the insurgents, who on rampage to loot the community and extort money from villagers, and they successfully routed the Boko Haram insurgents in the encounter. The statement was however silent on casualties and the allegations that the insurgents fled with military weaponry.

During the After Battle Assessment, the soldiers had revealed that the weaponry that the BHT used against them was same that they carted away during in previous siege on army formations in parts of Borno and Yobe States. Given that the insurgents were fully kitted in military apparels that they carted away from previous raids, it made it extremely difficult for the military to distinguish them from real Nigerian soldiers.

Another factor blamed for the huge loss was the terrain, which was exercabated by the rainy season, thus making the ground swampy. Also, poor management of security reports and shortcomings of fighting equipment were blamed responsible for the recent setback.

Buoyed by the successs of the previous week, the insurgents again on September 8, struck. Although there was no definite casualty rate, many people were feared dead after the invasion of Gudunbali town in Guzamala Local Government Area. In this instance, the insurgents recaptured the town after several hours of gun battle with Nigeria troops.

After putting up resistance, the troops were finally overpowered and the insurgents occupied the headquarters of Guzamala LGA, after they had reclaimed the town. Given that they burnt the recently reconstructed houses, many of the residents were said to have either fled to Gubio town or hid in the bushes.

The Deputy Governor of Borno State, Usman Mamman Durkwa, who confirmed that there was indeed a Boko Haram attack on the military base located in Gudumbali, insisted that he was yet to get the actual number of casualties from security forces.

Concerns

As expected, these successful resurgence have given cause for worry, not just for the military but for civilians. One of such who expressed his worry was Senator Muhammad Ali Ndume, who also alleged gross misapplication of funds meant for the management of the humanitarian crisis in the zone.

He said: "I am worried about the resurgence and escalation of attacks on military formations and communities by Boko Haram, especially within the span of two months, and this should worry the entire country. The military, I think, should concentrate their heavy operations at the black spots of Sambisa, Mandara mountains and the Dikwa/Gamboru axis where the insurgents still seem to be heavily concentrated. Military formations should be on permanent alert about any attack; I am not a military man, but I want to believe that if somebody attacks you in your own house, it means that you are not ready.

Also, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), had disclosed that at least 2,295 teachers had been killed in the NE since the conflict began in 2009, adding that more than 1,000 children had been abducted and 1,400 schools destroyed by the terrorists in the region since 2013. UNICEF has also fully backed the Safe School Declaration, which provides cover for children in schools by making sure that they are safe as they have the right to education and protection.

Just last month, the UN Security Council said it remained concerned at the security and humanitarian situation caused by the Boko Haram terrorists and other armed groups in Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad.

The council also noted with particular concern the continuing use by Boko Haram of women and girls as suicide bombers, which has created an atmosphere of suspicion towards them and made them targets of harassment and stigmatisation in affected communities, and of arbitrary arrests by security forces.

The 15-man council also emphasised the need for affected states to counter terrorism in all its forms, including by addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, in accordance with obligations under international law, in particular international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law.

Successes

Despite the downturn of events, it's however, not all gloomy going by the successes recorded by the military. It is pertinent to note that the military are not resting on its oars.

Infact, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, had in March this year stated that over 3,133 terrorists have been killed, 5,475 arrested in three years. He also said 129,956 were liberated and 32 bomb factories destroyed. In addition, a total of 129,956, have been liberated from the terrorist group.

Buratai had made this disclosure in Ghana at the Security Watch Africa Awards ceremony, of which THISDAY attended. Although he was represented, Buratai shared his thoughts and experience on "Boko Haram and Nigerian Army's efforts at countering the threat".

In countering the BHT, he had disclosed approaches adopted by the Nigerian Army, which he said were crucial to changing the tide against the group. He listed some of the approaches as provision of purposeful leadership, understanding the operating environment and strategy and tactics employed. Others are state of manpower, intelligence, media and information operations, psychological operations, respect for human rights, cooperation with other security agencies and international collaboration.

He said since July 2015 that he took over office, considerable progress had been made from their deployment to just four local government areas to 27 LGAs of Borno State, parts of Adamawa and Yobe States. He said BHTs numbers had been drastically reduced to have no meaningful military capability, which rendered them incapable of fighting cohesively as before.

Also, the Nigerian Air Force had recently set up a new Operation Thunder Strike, manned by young pilots of squadron leader and flying officer ranks to continue the air strikes.

After the launch, the next day saw air strikes by NAF aircraft, which resulted in the destruction of Boko Haram hideouts and neutralisation of scores of insurgents at three locations, namely, Tumbun Rego, Sabon Tumbun and Tumbun Allura, all on the fringes of the Lake Chad.

Tumbun Rego, which is located about 140Km Northeast of Maiduguri, has been identified as a major logistics/communications base and staging area for the insurgents. Accordingly, the ATF detailed F-7Ni and Alpha Jet aircraft to attack the identified BHT logistics/communications hubs. The identified hubs were subsequently destroyed by the strikes. Similarly, a number of solar panels were spotted and destroyed during the attack.

According to NAF Director of Public Relations and Information (DOPRI), Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, the attack on Sabon Tumbun was undertaken based on Human Intelligence reports, which were later confirmed following several days of Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions, indicating that the settlement was a BHT tactical operations base.

Daramola said the settlement also had some equipment and vehicles cleverly concealed under thick foliage. Accordingly, the settlement was attacked in successive waves of strikes by Alpha Jet, F-7Ni and Mi-35M Helicopter Gunships, leading to the destruction of BHT facilities, equipment and structures in the settlement as well as the neutralisation of several insurgents.

Tumbun Allura, another major BHT operationsbase on the fringes of the Lake Chad, was attacked by Alpha Jet and F-7Ni aircraft. Overhead the area of interest, several of the BHTs were observed and the objectified.

On September 5, in continuation of the strike team, the the Air Task Force (ATF) of Operation LAFIYA DOLE, successfully destroyed some BHT facilities and equipment at Alafa Yagayaga in Sambisa Forest as well as a suspected BHT ammunition depot in Kusuma on the fringes of Lake Chad, Borno State.

The DOPRI said, "The air strikes against Boko Haram terrorists at Alafa Yagayaga were targeted at structures within the settlement that had been identified via previous Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions to be rendezvous (RV) points for the insurgents.

"Consequently, a combination of NAF fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships were detailed to carry out air interdiction on the locations, while the NAF ISR aircraft conducted Battle Damage Assessment (BDA). The attack platforms acquired the targets and took turns to attack the location, destroying the structures and killing most of the BHTs in the process. The few surviving BHTs, seen fleeing the area, were strafed and neutralised by the helicopter gunships.

"The attack at Kusuma was initiated following credible intelligence indicating the presence of a BHT logistics/ammunition depot within the settlement. Accordingly, the ATF detailed a fighter aircraft to attack the insurgents' position, while the NAF ISR aircraft conducted BDA. At the end of the attacks, the BDA revealed a direct hit on the ammunition depot, which was engulfed in fire while some other adjoining BHT structures were equally destroyed and the occupying terrorists neutralised."

However, despite the insistence of the military that they have completely destroyed BHT forces and the succeeded recorded, some pertinent questions still linger; where are these group of rampaging forces emerging from, who supplies their weaponry, why are efforts to repel them abortive, who tips them off about the movement of the military forces?Until these questions are answered and a strategic solution mapped out to protect the flanks, the attacks just might continue, with great toll on human lives, either civilian or otherwise. Not forgotten is the humanitarian chaos it creates as residents are compelled to go to already filled up Internally Displaced Persons camps.

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