Zamfara:  We Did Not Bomb Civilian Targets, Claims Air Force

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Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja

The Nigerian Air Force said yesterday it did not conduct air strikes on civilian targets in Zamfara State. It said NAF bombing campaigns against armed bandits in the North-west were products of combined human intelligence that took “days of detailed day and night Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions to ensure proper targeting for avoidance of collateral damage”.

NAF reacted to the recent alarm raised by Zamfara Traditional rulers that bombings by NAF fighter jets killed innocent people instead of the targeted armed bandits and terrorists.

The position of the monarchs comes on the heels of a recent United States Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2018, accusing the Air Force of covering up the report of a panel it constituted to look into the bombing of an IDP camp in Rann, Borno State, that killed more than 100 civilians and aid workers.

But the Nigerian Air Force said the target selection process for air operations was rigorous and methodical in order to ensure proper target identification and prevent strikes on wrong locations.

“The attention of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has been drawn to some media reports insinuating that the recent air strikes conducted by its Air Task Force for Operation Diran Mikiya killed only innocent civilians in the areas attacked and not bandits.

“The NAF finds such reports rather ridiculous because most of the locations attacked are within the Rugu, Sububu and Kagara Forests general area, which are known armed bandits hideouts that have been attacked in the past, without any outcry.

“Besides, the NAF targets selection process for air operations is particularly rigorous and methodical in order to ensure proper target  identification and thereby prevent strikes on wrong locations,” it said in a statement issued in Abuja.

The statement signed by its Spokesman, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, said: “for the avoidance of doubts, the public is to please note that the locations attacked from April 8-11 2019, were selected based on human intelligence (HUMINT) reports obtained from security agencies and other government sources, traditional and community leaders as well as reliable, vetted informants.

“These were all further confirmed by days of detailed day and night Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions to ensure proper targeting for avoidance of collateral damage. To further ensure this, as standard practice, NAF attack aircraft on air interdiction missions are accompanied by ISR platforms that guide them to designated targets.

“Furthermore, NAF pilots, by training and in line with extant Rules of Engagement (ROEs) for the operation, do not attack any location if it is observed that non-combatants, especially women and children, are present. In such cases, the pilots would rather return to base with their munitions unexpended. Consequently, it is inconceivable that the NAF would attack locations where innocent civilians reside.”

The statement further explained that “the NAF finds it rather mischievous that anyone would spread such deliberate misinformation whilst the Service is doing its best to effectively respond to the challenges facing the good people of Zamfara State and its environs.”

“Rather than making such spurious and unsubstantiated allegations, NAF requests that anyone with evidence to the effect that innocent civilians were targeted by the NAF air strikes should produce such evidence.

It maintained that “NAF as a professional service, would not want to join issues with any group of individuals, including traditional rulers, but will rather remain committed to ensuring the safety and security of all Nigerians.

“Accordingly, we shall continue to work assiduously, in synergy with sister services and other security agencies, to rid the North-west of all criminal elements. The general public can therefore be rest assured that the NAF will not be deterred but will sustain its air operations to facilitate a return to normalcy that would enable Nigerians in the area pursue their legitimate aspirations.

“In this regard, the NAF hereby advocates public support, and not distracting and unsubstantiated allegations, as its personnel continue to sacrifice towards eliminating all threats to the security and, indeed, the development of our beloved country”.

It would be recalled that at an emergency meeting of Zamfara State Council of Chiefs convened to deliberate on government’s  fight against armed banditry in the state, the Emir of Bungudu, Alhaji Hassan Attahiru, said “the council noted that air strikes undertaken by the military did not hit the main camps of the bandits.

“Reports from Mutu in Gusau and Tsafe Local Government Area, Tangaram in the Anka Local Government Area and Dunburum in the Zurmi Local Government Area, among others, indicated that the areas shelled were not the actual hideouts of the bandits and the victims were innocent civilians”.

The council said efforts to end the rampaging banditry in the state would only be achieved “if the main camps of the bandits were taken over and security personnel stationed there for a considerable period of time as it  would deprive the bandits territory, mobility and supply routes thus securing all surrounding areas”.

In the same vein, a recent report of the United States’ Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour in its Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2018 in the part of the report focused on   bombing wrong targets, recalled the January 2017 bombing of an informal Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) settlement in Rann, Borno State, by the Nigerian Air Force which killed more than 100 civilians and aid workers.

It said: “The government and military leaders publicly assumed responsibility for the strike and launched an investigation.  The Air Force conducted its own internal investigation but as of December, the government had not made public its findings.  No air force or army personnel were known to have been held accountable for their roles in the event”.