•No intelligence yet on where Chibok girls are
•We won’t bomb Niger-Delta
Iyobosa Uwugiaren and Paul Obi in Abuja
The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) on Sunday said the war against the Boko Haram insurgency and other acts of terrorism remain on course, adding that its main focus is to degrade the terrorists and eventually destroy their logistic base.
The Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar at an elaborate briefing with journalists in Abuja on the recent activities of the force, took time to shed light on the fight against terrorists in the North-east part of the country, stating the determination of the military to rout all forms of terrorism against the state.
Abubakar said: “Our strategy is to ensure that we degrade the capacity of the Boko Haram sect, so that the army can conduct ground operations. All over the world, air power is very important, so we have to do all that to ensure success.
“What we want to achieve is to degrade Boko Haram terrorists and destroy their logistics base, towards the end of the year and it is going to be possible. The time for the Boko Haram to escape is almost over.”
He explained that the challenge in ground operations lies in the difficulty in accessing Sambisa Forest, particularly for the army, “you can see there is the difficulty in covering every inch of Sambisa Forest, we still fly over Sambisa Forest. The terrain is very difficult for the land force, for us we can fly anytime. However, it is difficult to say the place can be occupied now.”
On Chibok girls, Abubakar told the editors that there was no clear-cut intelligence on the whole matter about the whereabouts of the girls, stressing that the military is working round the clock to find a lasting solution and possibly rescue the girls.
“There is no intelligence that can specifically tell you that the girls are here or there. Honestly, there is no intelligence; we are working round the clock. When civil societies criticise; they say there is nothing happening. It’s not too nice, we are working, I believe that we will get there,” the air force chief said.
He also denied allegations by the Boko Haram sect that the air force bombed some of the Chibok girls kidnapped by the sect saying: “There is no military operation without collateral damage, but what we are saying is that we have taken steps to avoid civilian casualties.”
Abubakar further dispelled speculations about a possible military operation in Niger-Delta, to stop the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) and other militants’ activities, particularly, the bombing of oil facilities.
He said while the political approach should be pursue with seriousness, it is incumbent on the military to protect the national assets in the region and across the country.
“Talks are political issues; our own mandate in the constitution is to protect the territorial integrity of Nigeria. We already have base there that is supporting the operation. What I can tell you is that we are not going to bomb the Niger-Delta region. But we are going to protect the region the people and oil installations,” Abubakar stated.
The air force boss said under his watch, the Nigerian Air Force was looking inward, restrategising and focusing on research and development for an effective and efficient air force capable of withstanding any aggression.
To that effect, the air force now has about 25 doctoral degree holders and over 50 master’s degree holders trained abroad on aerospace engineering. He added with this manpower, the air force is now partnering Nigerian universities to train more officers of the service.
“Our research and development project addresses our aircraft maintenance issue without going abroad, so we need to look inward and save cost. Therefore, research and development are the most important in our quest to innovate and improve our air power,” Abubakar said.
He stressed that that procurement of military ware at the international level more on politics than affordability, adding that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has strengthened the capacity of the air force to engage in rigorous research and fortification of its defence weaponry.
Abubakar maintained that the “Winning Hearts and Minds project is the most important in community relations and the only way for the community to come close to the military. If the community have a stake in what you are doing, they will be committed.”
He listed several projects built by the air force for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North-east, such as hospitals, schools, toilets and provision of free medical services.
The Chief of Air Staff also pledged to continue to provide improved welfare for officers, catering for the well being and ensuring that officers at the war front are properly treated and their families taken care of.