The Nigerian military has again given a deadline for the ultimate defeat of Boko Haram and several measures have been put in place to achieve that goal. But would the goal be achieved this time? Senator Oroegbu tries to find out
The Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. Turkur Buratai, recently mobilised the troops of Operation Lafiya Dole in the North-east for a final onslaught against Boko Haram terrorist remnants still entrenched in parts of Sambisa forest and areas around northern Borno State bordering the Lake Chad region.
Buratai, in his Yuletide message, charged the soldiers to adopt aggressive measures to ensure that the terrorists were wiped out before the end of December 2016, adding that he wants to see the troops back to the barracks by 2017.
He stated, “I wish to make this call to action and wake up call to you all and to emphasise that we must immediately begin to embark on the final aggressive action and comprehensive sweep of the operational theatre with a view to ending the operation on a very high note.
“In this regard, no stone should be left unturned. I therefore call on all officers and soldiers to buckle up and ensure that remnants of Boko Haram terrorists are completely cleared.”
The army chief also urged all commanders to plan and embark on effective patrols, raids, ambushes and deliberate attacks in conjunction with other services, especially the Nigerian Air Force and Nigerian Navy, to rescue all those abducted by the terrorists.
He reminded the troops that captured and surrendered Boko Haram terrorists must be treated humanely and fairly and in strict accordance with the provisions of International Humanitarian Law and Laws of Armed Conflict.
Buratai emphasised “that December is a month of decision”, adding, “it is either we succeed in clearing the remnants of Boko Haram terrorists or we continue to live in perpetual circle of their atrocities in the North-east.”
He called on the troops to remain focused, disciplined, loyal, dedicated and patriotic to their duties and to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Buhari Echoes Deadline
Buhari made a similar statement before the Panel of Heads of State at the Third Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security in Africa, in Senegal. He backed Buratai’s assertions on ending Boko Haram terrorism by the end of the year.
The president stated, “About a month ago, I spoke with the president of Chad and I was pleased that a number of Chadians and Nigerians that were Boko Haram members are surrendering to him en-masse. The good news I have is that the end of the rainy season has come in the north eastern region of Nigeria.
“Members of the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) are in their respective positions and at an agreed time they will move simultaneously and spontaneously for us to see the end of Boko Haram. We are now operating in the Sambisa forest and as far as Boko Haram is concerned in the Lake Chad Basin area, I think they are done for.”
He also highlighted the gains of the cooperation among the Lake Chad Basin Commission countries (LCBC) comprising Chad, Niger, Cameroon, Benin Republic and Nigeria.
According to him, “Those who live in the North-east know that Boko Haram is no longer holding a single territory in the 774 LGAs in Nigeria. But they have a system of using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and they indoctrinate mostly teenage girls and send them to soft targets to churches, mosques and market places. That, too, is becoming very rare.”
Buhari observed, “Boko Haram shot themselves in the foot when they gave their ideology a religious connotation by killing children in their schools, people in the mosque and churches and shouting Allahu Akbar.
“This is a major contradiction, as no religion advocates hurting the innocent. You can’t kill people and say Allahu Akbar. You either do not know what you are saying or you don’t believe it.”
But there are doubts about the ability of the federal government to root out the insurgents within the specified period. This is due to some obvious realities.
There is the issue of depletion of existing arms and ammunitions.
Sources within the military say that since its assumption of office, the Buhari government has yet to procure any arms and add to the existing stockpile. The ones currently being used, which were mostly bought towards the end of the former President Goodluck Jonathan administration, are being exhausted because of the intensity of the operations, they sources maintain.
According to the military insiders, the ground troops, in particular, will need more of the T-72 battle tanks that have been effective against the terrorists as well as mine sweepers and resistance vehicles.
An informed source also observed that more would be required to deal with the guerrilla and asymmetric nature of the conflict as the terrorists lose more territory.
The source, a senior officer, stressed that the weather would favour both the military and terrorists in equal measures as the dry season offers opportunity of movement as well as the challenge of dusty and hazy atmosphere that could blur vision and operations.
He said, “It will not take the military too much to take out these terrorists but a lot depends on what we have at our disposal. We need more T-72 tanks, MRAPS, mine sweepers as we contend with saboteurs, informants and bad weather.
“Then what are the other measures that have been put on ground for eventual defeat of the terrorists by end of the year. Are these measures on ground and enough.”
Bringing in Air Force, Navy
The measures put in place for the final onslaught to flush out the Boko Haram terrorists include expanded roles of the Nigerian Navy and Nigerian Air Force. The Nigerian Army are involved in most of the battles. However, there is increasing participation of the other military services in combat operations.
It is, however, appropriate to note that the special forces of the Navy and Air Force have been in active combat duties and ground operations with their Army counterparts for a long time. But the difference in the recent strategy is that both services have more permanent and independent platforms working in tandem with the Army and other security agencies for the overall goal of the operation.
Lake Chad Naval Post
The Nigerian Navy, for the first time since the counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations against Boko Haram began, officially established a presence and platform to help secure the volatile maritime area of the Lake Chad region in support of the overall military activities in the North-east.
Last month, the service commenced the deployment of its personnel and other logistics to Lake Chad Basin Naval post, to effectively counter the activities of Boko Haram terrorists and other criminal elements that have been very active in northern part of Borno, especially around Lake Chad, Abadan area of the state, and Dinfa boundary region of Niger Republic.
Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, disclosed the decision during the inauguration of the 2016 CNS Strategic Directive 2, at the naval headquarters in Abuja. He revealed that the “movement of the advance party to protect Nigeria’s territorial interest on the Lake, bordering Nigeria and countries in the Sahel region commenced last month…
“And it will interest you to know that the NN has commenced deployment to Lake Chad Basin to help fight maritime crime related issues arising around its environs. This signals the presence of the NN in that area.”
According the CNS, “The participation of special boat services is to counter insurgency operations, and to make sure that the Boko Haram terrorists are ramped out of that place.
“Also it will strategically improve economic values as well. With all this, we ensure that the duties of the Nigerian Navy will further be enhanced.”
Buhari had on March 22 approved the establishment of a naval command post in the Lake Chad region in a bid to strengthen the fight against insurgency in the North-east.
Director of Information, Nigerian Navy, Commodore Christian Ezekobe, told THISDAY that the naval post was to secure the territorial integrity of Nigerian around the region and protect the surrounding islands.
He emphasised that the military post was solely a Nigerian arrangement and not under the LCBC and MNJTF agreement.
“This is being set up with a view to checkmating the illegal entry of the Boko Haram terrorists through the Lake Chad and surrounding boundary area. This is also to ensure the security and territorial integrity of the islands within Lake Chad,” Ezekobe said.
New Attack Aircraft
The NAF authorities have, as part of the combined efforts to end the insurgency, increased its aerial assault against the terrorist enclaves in the two key remaining strongholds in Sambisa forest and northern Borno. But achieving the goal of this operation requires suitable fighter jets and helicopters for sustained aerial bombardment and effective surveillance. To this end, the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, confirmed that NAF had been given approval to acquire and induct at least 10 attack aircraft into its arsenal.
Abubakar said the expected aircraft included four Mi-35m attack helicopters from Russia, three Super Tucano from Brazil, and three JF-17 Thunder from Pakistan. In addition, he said another 10 Super Mushack primary trainer from Pakistan would be inducted into the NAF service – some of these were inducted recently at the NAF Base, Kaduna, with Pakistani trainers provided for free under a quid-pro-co arrangement.
Abubakar also assured that the on-going US arms embargo will not stop the countries in question from selling the A-29 Super Tucano fighter aircraft to Nigeria like it did to Israel in 2014. He further assured that despite the arms embargo, the US had in recent times shown willingness to assist in the country’s counter-insurgency efforts in the North-east.
The Air Force chief said NAF was not resting in the efforts to make the service more self-reliant. He said in line his leadership vision, the air force had reactivated about 13 aircraft that were hitherto grounded for years due to lack of maintenance and questionable flying status.
“These aircraft include three Mi-24V/35P, two EC-135, one Beechcraft, one falcon, one Super Puma, one DA-42, two DO-228 and two A-109LUHs,” he said.
Abubakar said NAF had trained over 700 personnel, comprising of 40 pilots, overseas and 27 pilots within the country. He said the service had increased its platforms and increased recruitment into the service from 500 to 2,500, as well as “approved the creation of four regiment groups under our newly created Special Operations Command, which will soon take off in Gusau, Owerri, Bauchi and Ipetu Ijesha”.
He revealed that the service trained 325 special forces in anti-hijacking, counter terrorism and Very Important Personality (VIP) protection, with some already in the North-east operation.
Many have expressed worry over the seeming difficulty in rooting the Boko Haram terrorists from Sambisa forest. However, the military authorities have on several occasions explained that Sambisa is an expansive area, like the size of Enugu State and part of Ebonyi state combined.
Theatre Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, Maj-Gen. Leo Irabor, while addressing the issue during a press briefing at the Military Command and Control Centre (MCC), Maiduguri, recently said Sambisa onslaught, which is tagged “Operation Rescue Finale”, was part of a larger “Operation Crackdown”, which was launched early this year for the same purpose.
Irabor said, “The troops of Operation Lafiya Dole have continued to clear several Boko Haram terrorists in their hideouts and recorded huge successes. Since the last brief till today, our troops have moved deeper into Sambisa forest on many fronts.”
He noted that since its commencement on November 2, the troops had continued to make progress into the heart of Sambisa forest.
The theatre commander assured that the directive given by the army chief and the president to end the operation by end of the year was on course, adding, “the COAS goodwill message to the troops titled “No More Time To Waste”, which has been relayed…has boosted the morale of troops”.
He said, “Let me, therefore, reiterate my earlier admonishment to the misguided BHT elements to give up their ignoble adventure. They are advised to surrender to the military or other security agencies without further delay.”
Sense of Deja Vu or Push for Victory
There is no doubt that the military are putting up their best efforts to realise with the government directives to end the Boko Haram terrorism by the end of 2016. However, a similar effort had ended in disappointing results in the past.
It would be recalled that the famous December 2015 deadline for the military to defeat Boko Haram failed. Curiously, that failure was dressed in a garb of “technical defeat” of Boko Haram.
Security experts have faulted the idea of issuing timelines and deadlines in an asymmetric warfare of the type going on in the North-east, saying it is unpredictable and highly fluid.