Boko Haram: Where Are the Drones?



By  Joseph Ushigiale

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This is perhaps not the best of times to comment on the military’s current offensive against the Boko Haram sect. The reason is traceable to the recent spat between the military and one of the news organisations accused of leaking sensitive information about impending military operations.

Therefore, this piece, on the strength of a resurgence in the sect’s deadly operations in recent times, is directed at pointing out or suggesting to the military hierarchy, possible new globally-tested strategies that could help up the ante in the current push against the sect.

Since 2012 when the dreaded Boko Haram insurgents first began their campaign in the North-east to protest against western education, over 38,000 persons have so far been killed to date. This figure includes casualties involving the sect, civilian population and about 2000 of state actors according a recent report by the Council on Foreign Relations.

Going by assurances given to Nigerians by President Muhammadu Buhari in his inaugural address and the pronouncement by Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed that the sect had been technically defeated, one would have thought that by now Boko Haram would be history. Regrettably it is not and it has become deadlier and bolder than ever before.

Although, the military have made remarkable successes in the fight against the sect, recovering swathes of occupied territories, some kidnapped men and women including the federal government negotiated release of some of the Chibok girls, a lot still needs to be done.

Which is why it is now imperative for the military hierarchy to save the lives of soldiers most of whom are hurriedly trained and drafted to the front, by returning to the drawing board to rejig its strategies if this war must be won. As it stands, it has become apparent that the current strategies and methods deployed to prosecute the war have not yielded the desired results and therefore there is a need to learn from the experiences of others to innovatively confront the sect.

A couple of examples from other climes will suffice. In August 1990, the former Iraqi strongman, Saddam Hussein decided to attack and annex Kuwait as its new province. He massed over 300,000 ground forces into Kuwait over running that country’s combined military comprising of the army, navy, Airforce etc.

But his Arab neighbours fearing an imminent threat to their survival, appealed to the United Nations; the United States eager to prevent an escalation of a full blown war in the Middle East and to protect such allies as Isreal and Saudi Arabia decided to pick up the challenge.

Operating under the UN’s mandate, the US formed a coalition of 28 countries pooling almost 670,000 ground forces added to another 425,000 US marines and 3000 jet fighters under the command of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf to confront the Iraqis and push them out of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

According, Schwarzkopf did not want a ground war with the Iraqis to avoid heavy casualties on the coalition side. According to his memoirs, he implemented his operational plan to defend Saudi Arabia and expel Iraq from Kuwait using Gen. Colin Powell’s (then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) doctrine of overwhelming force and incorporated Montgomery’s desert armor tactics from the second battle of El-Alamein in World War II, all in an effort to minimize casualties on both sides.

Rather than engaging the already entrenched Iraqis in ground battle, the ground commanders changed strategy and ordered the U.S. Air Force using over 3000 jet fighters to launch more than 100,000 sorties (air missions) starting on Jan. 17th, 1991 and dropped more than 88,500 tons of bombs. The Air War was one of the most massive, effective air campaigns to date. According to Schwarkopf “Once begun, the ground war lasted only 100 hours before Iraq capitulated.”

At the end of that campaign, the US lost about 148 servicemen in active combat. But between 2001 to 2011, the US lost over 6000 servicemen in both Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts about 4000 of deaths recorded under the former President George W. Bush’s regime. In the Vietnam war which started in 1955, the United States lost an estimated 58,220 servicemen by end of the war in 1974 according to

Thus under the President Barack Obama presidency, Obama adopted a new strategy to keep American servicemen safe and out of harm’s way. One of the strategies he adopted was the use of military drones. According to the use of drones aligned with Obama’s ambition to keep up the war against al Qaeda while extricating the US military from intractable, costly ground wars in the Middle East and Asia.

Even though his decision to adopt such a controversial approach came under severe criticism at home, the Obama administration insisted then that drone strikes were so “exceptionally surgical and precise” that they pluck off terror suspects while not putting “innocent men, women and children in danger”. The success of this strategy can be captured in the result recorded throughout the period of the Obama presidency. About 542 drone strikes that Obama authorized killed an estimated 3,797 people, including 324 civilians without losing a single American service personnel according to

The current war against Boko Haram has a lot to learn from the illustrations above and there is more to gain and very little to lose if the military adopt the globally tested strategy in prosecuting not only the current war against insurgency but in other operations.

About this time last year, the Nigerian Airforce under the current leadership invited  Buhari to inaugurate a prototype drone. At the occasion, the President acknowledged that “Unmanned Aerial Vehicle can loiter and maintain an ‘‘unblinking stare’’ over a chosen area for hours. Thanks to the ability to ‘‘watch and wait’’, its operator, often miles away, can provide a continuous stream of vital information on enemy activities and if the platform is weaponised, it patiently chooses the best moment to engage.

“Thus the employment of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle capabilities for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and where possible, strike operations significantly increases the chances of success while minimising unwanted collateral damage.

“From the military perspective, the added capacity for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance provided by the TSAIGUMI will boost ongoing and future security operations. As this project moves into the next stage, which is mass production, it would create employment and possibly generate revenue as Nigeria’s first military export product.”

The Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar while highlighting some of the physical and performance parameters of the TSAIGUMI said it has a wing span of 5.16 metres and a maximum take-off mass of 95kg, Electro-Optic/Infra-Red (EO/IR) camera system while its engine runs on a 50:1 MOGAS/Oil mixture.

“It requires only 300 metres of runway for operation, with a mission range of 100km, a service ceiling at 15,000 feet and operational endurance of about 10 hours. The performance parameters and operational characteristics, would make this platform a critical component of NAF ISR architecture. Consequently, the UAV would be mass produced and employed in theatres of operations across the country,” the CAS pledged.

So one year after, with the military losing more men by the each passing day including the greater threat of territorial occupation and mounting civilian casualties, the question now is where are the drones that were pledged by Abubakar that would have readily been deployed to turn the tides in the fray?

Pix: Buhari.jpg