The Nigerian Air Force recently launched Operation Thunder Strike 2, a team made up of young budding pilots, to decimate regrouping Boko Haram forces. Chiemelie Ezeobi writes
The war against terror seems unending. The world over, the military and security forces battle one major challenge: regrouping terror forces. Nigeria has suffered the same fate in its fight against Boko Haram terrorism. There is no doubt that the Nigerian Armed Forces have considerably decimated the capacity of the insurgents to reclaim lost grounds, pushing them back into the arid desert and sometimes, even crippling their sources of weaponry.
Notwithstanding 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.
As unrelenting as these terror groups appear to be, the military, on the other hand, are also not resting on their oars. Just this September, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), through its Air Task Force (ATF), commenced Operation Thunder Strike 2 against Boko Haram terrorists in the North-east.
The operation, which commenced September 3, was an independent Air Interdiction Operation (AIO) targeting selected Boko Haram locations within the fringes of Lake Chad and Sambisa Forest in Borno State. This was with a view to further degrading the remnants of the insurgents, curtailing their freedom of action and denying them bases from which they could launch attacks against the nation’s ground troop locations.
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 operations base 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.”
Aside from destroying Boko Haram camps, another advantage of the strike force was that it brought to fore the talent of young pilots in the force.
In this operation, these set of courageous young pilots from the ranks of flying officers to squadron leaders, within the age bracket of 25 to 33 years, operate the NAF platforms in the various theatres of operation.
Unlike what was obtainable in the recent past where senior officers of the rank of Air Vice Marshals and Air Commodores were compelled to fly combat missions due to scarcity of young aircrew, these young pilots now fully man all components of the air operations including Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR).
Recently, the young strike force exhibited courage and doggedness in the fight to prevent the Albarnawi group of Boko Haram Terrorists (BHT), from establishing a foothold in the Lake Chad Green fringes.
This earned them high praise from the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, who commended the pilots, especially the young ones and other personnel, who made this possible.
CAS, who was at the headquarters of the Air Task Force (ATF) of Operation LAFIYA DOLE in Maiduguri to monitor the progress, urged the young pilots to remain focused and unrelenting in their quest to safeguard the territorial integrity of the country.
While assuring the young pilots of the commitment of the NAF in ensuring serviceability of various platforms in its inventory, Abubakar said the welfare needs of the pilots, and indeed all NAF personnel, would continue to receive priority attention.
For the NAF, the steadily increasing number of young pilots who are flying various Air Force platforms, is a radical transformation from what obtained in the recent past, when senior officers of the rank of Air Vice Marshal and Air Commodore were compelled to fly combat missions due to scarcity of young aircrew.
According Daramola, these young pilots are engaged in daily missions for the force. He said, “It is imperative to state that most of these young, intelligent and courageous combat and operational support pilots, who are flying NAF platforms in the various theatres of operation, including the Northeast and Northwest, are junior officers of the ranks of flying officer to squadron leader within the age bracket of 25 to 33 years.
“They now fully man all components of the air operations ranging from combat; Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) as well as air mobility missions, while the senior pilots provide the needed guidance and operational directives.
“These committed young and energetic pilots conduct multiple missions daily and often remain airborne for several hours monitoring incidents and providing air support to the surface forces.
“The foregoing is evidence that, the CAS vision of repositioning the NAF into a highly professional and disciplined force through capacity building initiative.”