Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja
The Defence Headquarters (DHQ) at the weekend rallied support from the public for the controversial Operation Positive Identification, saying it was launched to track fleeing terrorists and not to violate human rights of Nigerians.
Besides, it is optimistic of a quicker end to the insurgency in the North-east following the acquisition of helicopter gunships, which will give it a monopoly of aerial power over the insurgents and change the tide in favour of the military.
It also described the killing of the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, by US Special Forces as a sign that terrorists in the North-east are not invincible and would be extinguished if the military is given adequate support.
Defence spokesman, Col. Onyema Nwachukwu, while fielding questions from THISDAY on the insurgency war and the killing of the ISIS leader, allayed fears of the public over the exercise in which the military would be demanding means of identification from Nigerian passers-by, either in vehicles or on the road.
He said: “Operation Positive Identification was conducted in the North-east theatre of operations. When the terrorists were routed in several encounters that we had, they began to fizzle out. There was information put out there that these people were beginning to escape and that people should watch out.
“Quite a good number of them had infiltrated the society, therefore creating sleeper cells within the populace and the theatre felt that it was very important to conduct an operation to be able to identify the fleeing terrorists.”
On the helicopter gunships, he said the morale had risen among troop since their deployment to aid soldiers on the ground in routing the insurgents.
It said the military was determined to rout the terrorists.
According to Nwachukwu, while the strategy is not designed to compromise the operations of the Air Force (Air Task Force), it would be a game changer in defeating insurgency.
The Theatre Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, Major General Olusegun Adeniyi, had recently said the army required attack helicopters to end the war in three months.
The defence spokesman agreed with the position of the theatre commander. “It is a valid position; it is a very strong position. If you look at the North-east operation, it is a very large area. It is like three countries put together.
“It is a very vast environment and most of the time, the land troops traverse the terrain, using soft-skinned vehicle mostly, reason being that we have not been able to procure military hardware that resist improvised explosive devices and other incendiaries that could easily destroy soft-skin hardware.
“So, it’s a thing of advantage to the troops in the theatre to be able to carry out special troop insertions behind enemy lines, to be able traverse the theatre of operations without exposure. The IED attacks by the insurgents, you know that most of the area is a desert environment so it is easy to plant IEDs anywhere without detection.
“We have not been able to acquire for instance IED detecting devices with ground penetrating capability. What we have for instance are those that could be ahead of the troops advancing and at times it clogs the wheel of advancing mobile troops. It is going to be of enormous advantage to have those attack helicopters”.
He said helicopter gunships would “aid insertion of troops with very minimal, reasonable timing. It will provide close support at any time for ground troops who are conducting offensives. It could also provide lift capacity during an ambush. They could be called upon and very quickly respond to such calls to provide support for troops under attack”.
On the timeline for ending the war in the North-east, Nwachukwu was non-committal, saying that the nature of the war does not give room for such a projection.
“I don’t think it is responsible of me to begin to make projections around the theatre of war in the North-east. I am not in a position to give a timeline and you need to understand the fact that the enemy is equally trained.
“It is not a scorched earth thing where everything is wiped out. If they surrender today just like what we had in the past where you had a good number of the foot soldiers of Boko Haram surrendering to us and that was what reduced their capacity and that was what decimated it”, he said.
He recalled that after ISIS was defeated, they decided to align with Boko Haram as ISWAP to save the face of terrorism in the global arena.
“So what we are saying is that it will not be appropriate to say that the insurgency will come to an end at a particular time. I can’t give a timeline; I don’t think it will be reasonable to do so,” he added.
The DHQ also lauded the killing of al-Baghdadi by US Special Forces, saying it shows that terrorists are not invincible.
United States President Donald Trump had last week confirmed that the ISIS leader was killed October 26 during a daring, two-hour operation in his compound in north-west Syria.
He detonated bombs in a suicide vest as he fled the scene, killing himself and his three sons.
An earlier defeat of the group by a coalition of forces led by the United States, had forced splinter groups, including ISWAP, to relocate to other regions.
The DHQ told THISDAY that the collaboration by ISWAP and Boko Haram in Nigeria was a face-saving measure by a group that has long been defeated.
Nwachukwu said: “It is a good thing that it (killing of ISIS leader) happened and it goes to show and prove that the terrorists are not invincible -granted the fact that they are there to create fear and terror amongst the populace. They are there to use fear and terror to push whatever agenda or struggle they have, mostly illegitimate ones.
“They are not invincible. The fact that they can detonate Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and kill themselves goes to show that they have no value for human lives even their own lives. They have no value for the society or sanctity of life.
“It is proving not only to Nigeria and the international community that these people are people that are not invincible. The Nigerian Armed Forces will do everything in its capacity to ensure that we bring these people to their knees”.
He, however, noted that terrorist groups maintain a chain of command hence leadership succession is usually immediate.
“We should understand the fact that there is a chain of command just like the way the terrorists operate. They operate in various cells and they operate a chain of command and the moment the leader goes out there is succession, the succession is immediate,” he said.