With over 26,200 unprecedented operational hours flown by the Nigerian Air Force in counter insurgency operations in the North-east, Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the service has significantly increased pressure on the war against terrorism and banditry
Air power in history has been a decisive and critical factor in determining the outcome of any war. It is a fundamental component of military element of national power.
For the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), its vision to sustain efforts to decimate the remnants of Boko Haram Terrorists (BHTs), as well as bandits in North-east of Nigeria, using its aerial power, is one they adhere strictly to.
NAF has recorded several successes through the different operations it launched in the North-east by severely damaging the flanks of the terrorists going by the several videos captured after each assault. It would be safe to state that under the present Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, NAF has significantly increased its presence in the North-east to meet national security imperatives.
It is on record that as at August 2020, NAF had flown an unprecedented 26,200 operational hours in the counter-insurgency operations in the North-east, all to ensure the protection of the people and enable them pursue their legitimate aspirations without fear.
On August 11, 2020, in a bid to beef up already existing security arrangements in the fight against insurgency and other related crimes in the North-east zone in general and Gombe State in particular, NAF deployed air assets as well as NAF Regiment and Special Forces.
As was disclosed by the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubarkar, while playing host to the Executive Governor of Gombe State, Alhaji Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya, at Headquarters NAF Abuja, he said the NAF In conjunction with sister services and other security agencies, would continue to work tirelessly, round the clock, to secure the North-east and defend Nigeria’s territorial integrity whilst ensuring the nation’s sovereignty is not undermined by any group of individuals.
Before departing HQ NAF, the Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola said the governor was led by the CAS to the NAF Memorial Arcade to pay his respects to aircrew who had paid the supreme price in the course of duty.
On August 16, NAF deployed Special Forces (SF) operatives to Southern Kaduna. According to Air Commodore Daramola, the SF Team, led by the Commander of the 404 Force Protection Group (404 FPG), Squadron Leader Richard Ngaro, was airlifted by a NAF Mi-171E Helicopter from NAF Base Kaduna to Kafanchan, where they were received by the Commander Sector 7 of Operation SAFE HAVEN, Colonel David Nwakonobi, to join the contingent of the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) SF personnel already deployed to the area.
In his address to the troops during the deployment, CAS), who was represented by the Air Officer Commanding Air Training Command (AOC ATC), Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Musa Mukhtar, noted that the deployment was in line with DHQ Directives to beef up Operation SAFE HAVEN.
He said the NAF SF Team were additional elements to augment the DHQ SF personnel already deployed to beef up Sector 7 of Operation SAFE HAVEN in Southern Kaduna, adding that the deployment would last as long as necessary until lasting peace is restored.
“We also have Operation THUNDER STRIKE, which is domiciled in Kaduna to take care of the North West axis, with the Air Component Commander coordinating the air power aspect from Kaduna in support of ground operations in Southern Kaduna”, he added.
On August 12, the Air Task Force (ATF) of Operation LAFIYA DOLE destroyed a Boko Haram Terrorists’ (BHTs’) logistics storage facility and neutralised several of their fighters at Yamud along the Gulumba Gana-Kumshe axis of Borno State.
According to Coordinator, Defence Media Operations, Defence Headquarters, Major General John Enenche, the operation was executed on the heels of credible intelligence reports indicating that the settlement was one of the locations where the terrorists store their logistics and assemble to launch attacks.
He said series of follow-up aerial surveillance missions also showed significant number of terrorists within the settlement and also identified some compounds that were being used as storage facilities and meeting venues.
On August 14, the ATF of Operation LAFIYA DOLE, again eliminated scores of Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) fighters and destroyed compounds housing them at Tongule in the Lake Chad area of Northern Borno. The air strikes were conducted following credible Human Intelligence (HUMINT) reports indicating terrorists’ activities in the village.
Major General Enenche said following confirmatory Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions, which showed presence of a sizable number of the ISWAP elements at designated locations in the settlement, the Air Task Force dispatched a force package of NAF fighter jets to attack the location.
He said NAF Jets took turns in engaging the location scoring devastating hits on the designated targets leading to the destruction of the structures as well as the neutralisation of several ISWAP fighters.
On August 15, the Air Component of Operation THUNDER STRIKE neutralised several armed bandits at their camp in the Kuduru Forest area of Kaduna State. This was achieved through air strikes carried out on the heels of intelligence reports indicating the convergence of members of an Ansaru Terrorist Sect-linked bandits group, led by one Mallam Abba, at the location.
Major General Enenche said aerial surveillance missions conducted over the area also observed several bandits, some wielding weapons, in the forest, thus NAF jets and helicopter gunships were therefore tasked to attack the location. He said several of the bandits were killed as the attack aircraft strafed the area, while others attempting to escape were mopped-up in follow-on attacks.
On August 17, the ATF of Operation LAFIYA DOLE neutralised scores of terrorists and destroyed their hideouts and logistics structures at Tumbuma Baba and Boboshe in Borno State. This was achieved in air strikes executed on the first day of missions of a new subsidiary Operation codenamed “HAIL STORM”, which is an air interdiction operation aimed at taking out identified ISWAP and BHTs’ targets in the Lake Chad and Sambisa Forest areas of Borno State.
Enenche noted that the attack at Tumbuma Baba, one of the Island settlements on the fringes of the Lake Chad, was carried out after HUMINT reports indicated that several ISWAP fighters and some of their leaders were harboured in some structures concealed under the thick vegetation of the area.
Thus, NAF fighter jets dispatched by the ATF to attack the location scored devastating hits on the settlement, killing several of the terrorists and destroying their structures. Several terrorists were similarly neutralised and some of their dwellings destroyed at Boboshe, a village along the river line on the Eastern part of the Sambisa Forest, as the NAF jets took turns in engaging the location.
On August 19, in continuation of air strikes being conducted under subsidiary Operation HAIL STORM, the ATFof Operation LAFIYA DOLE successfully neutralised some ISWAP Commanders and knocked out logistics facilities at Bukar Meram on the fringes of the Lake Chad in Borno State, while also neutralising several terrorists at Dole, a settlement in the Southern part of Borno State. The air interdiction missions were executed on the heels of credible intelligence reports indicating a resurgence of terrorists’ activities in the two settlements.
Meanwhile, Enenche disclosed that Bukar Meram, a major ISWAP logistics hub linking other Island settlements of the Lake Chad, which also houses several of their fighters and some of their key leaders, was also attacked by an enhanced force package of NAF fighter jets and helicopter gunships which hit designated targets in the area leading to the destruction of the logistics facilities and neutralisation of several of the terrorists and their leaders.
He said: “The attack at Dole was carried out after ISR missions showed a build up of activities in the area after the relocation of some terrorists from nearby settlements of Kokiwa and Yale. Overhead the area the ISR aircraft spotted no fewer than 20 terrorists in the area, which were taken out by the NAF attack aircraft.”
On August 21, air strikes being conducted by the ATF of Operation LAFIYA DOLE under the subsidiary Operation HAIL STORM destroyed several BHTs’ structures and neutralised their fighters at Warshale in the Northern part of Borno State.
Enenche said the mission was executed after credible intelligence reports and series of aerial surveillance missions established that the settlement was one of those being used by the terrorists as staging area to launch attacks.
Accordingly, the ATF dispatched NAF fighter jets and attack helicopters, which engaged the location recording devastating hits resulting in the obliteration of several structures as well as the neutralisation of some of the terrorists.
On August 25, the ATF of Operation LAFIYA DOLE fought off ISWAP elements operating in the Island settlements of the Lake Chad in the Northern part of Borno State. This occurred in massive simultaneous air strikes executed under the subsidiary Operation HAIL STORM at Kirta Wulgo and Sabon Tumbun, two settlements on the fringes of the Lake, where several key ISWAP leaders and scores of their fighters were killed.
Enenche said the missions were conducted on the heels of credible HUMINT reports indicating that some ISWAP leaders and fighters had relocated to Sabon Tumbun due to the impact of the recent air strikes at the nearby Island settlement of Tumbuma Baba. Similarly, up to 15 high ranking ISWAP Commanders along with scores of their fighters were harboured at Kirta Wulgo, which serves as Administrative Headquarters and training camp for ISWAP.
Just this September, in continuation of the sustained offensive against criminal elements in the North-east, the ATF of Operation LAFIYA DOLE eliminated some Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) terrorists and destroyed compounds housing them at Kaza along the Gulumba Gana – Kumshe axis of Borno State.
The air strike was executed following credible Human Intelligence reports as well as confirmatory ISR missions indicating a resurgence of terrorists’ activities in the settlement.
According to Major General Enenche, the identified locations within the settlement were therefore attacked by fighter jets and helicopter gunships dispatched by the Air Task Force, resulting in the destruction of the structures and the neutralisation of some of the ISWAP fighters.
Given the enormous successes recorded last month , commendations have continued to pour in for NAF.
On August 1, Governor of Katsina State, Aminu Bello Masari, who was the guest of honour at the luncheon organised by NAF to celebrate the Eid-El-Kabir with frontline troops in Katsina, commended NAF personnel for their substantial sacrifices in the fight against armed banditry.
Masari, while appreciating the immense contributions of the NAF in addressing the security challenges facing Katsina State and the entire North-west Zone, equally lauded the steps being taken to acquire UAVs that would operate from Katsina, noting that this would undoubtedly add impetus to operations in the area.
In Gombe, the commendation ran along similar lines. Governor Yahaya commended the CAS for the bold step taken to establish the NAF FOB in Gombe State. He also thanked the CAS for the NAF’s consistent support and contributions towards securing the lives and properties of Nigerians in the North Eastern States.
He emphasised that Gombe’s central location would be an advantage in enhancing the NAF’s operations in the North-east. He noted however that the state shares borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic, which, he said, makes it vulnerable to a range of security threats.
Also commending NAF, Governor of Borno State, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum, said the service has been consistent in responsiveness in its counter-insurgency operations in Borno State and the entire North-east.
He said the commitment and dedication of the CAS, as well as officers, airmen and airwomen of the NAF had curtailed the activities of the insurgents and limited their scope of operations.
Speaking further, the governor, while commending the NAF for its consistent contributions towards the restoration of lasting peace to Borno State and other state in the North-east, equally appreciated the service for regularly providing airlift support to the state government.
Governor Zulum further noted that, while the state had suffered a number of attacks in the past two years or so, over 90 per cent of these had been successfully repelled through the robust, timely actions of the ATF of Operation LAFIYA DOLE.
He therefore commended the ATF for its consistent speedy response. “Whenever I receive any report of an attack or crisis in any location, I immediately call the ATF Commander and within a few minutes, the NAF aircraft are usually airborne to deal with the issue”, he added.
The governor said Borno State and indeed the entire nation would therefore continually remain indebted to the efforts of the NAF under the current leadership. He however solicited for sustained joint air and land offensive against specific areas within the Lake Chad and Sambisa Forest areas, observing specifically that the Lake Chad was, at a time, responsible for employment of over 10 Million people. He said there was need to ensure a return of normalcy to the area in order for the people to reap the socio-economic benefits of the Lake.