Nigeria: The Sri Lanka Solution


June 20, 2014: In the north troops have been ordered to be more active in searching for Boko Haram gunmen and dealing with them. This means patrolling roads frequently and carefully to keep these routes free of Boko Haram roadblocks (that mainly prey on passing vehicles and provide supplies of vehicles, fuel and other goods) and ambushes.

Just across the border Cameroon is now at war with Boko Haram. Cameroonians living along the 2,000 kilometer long border (especially in the northern third of that) are suffering because of it. Boko Haram is now attacking Cameroon villages in an effort to terrorize the locals into silence. Worse, the Islamic terrorists often kidnap teenage boys and try (usually successfully) to turn them into Islamic terrorists. Those that resist are killed. The most active area for this new Boko Haram violence is across the border from Borno state, the part of Nigeria suffering the most Boko Haram violence. Since early 2013 Cameroon has sent more troops to the border and set up an informant network of villagers and nomads living in the far north of the country. The local civilians in this area never did get along with Boko Haram. Initially the Islamic terrorists tried to behave well so as not to annoy the locals. This worked for a while but, as is often the case, friction developed and now Boko Haram is at war with Cameroon as well as Nigeria.

The Sri Lankan Solution

Military leaders have been meeting with their counterparts from Sri Lanka (an island nation off the southern coast of India) to discuss how the Sri Lankan security forces defeated the LTTE rebels there. The destruction of the LTTE fighting force in 2009 did not end the war that killed over 90,000 people in three decades of strife but the defeat did end a long period of major combat. There are still a lot of angry, armed and anti-social Tamils in Sri Lanka. There is still the tension between the Tamil minority (about 13 percent of the population) and the Sinhalese (80 percent) majority. There is also a large (seven percent) Moslem minority with some grievances. But nothing like the anger many Tamils and Sinhalese still feel towards each other. It's expected that there will be a lot of low level terrorism between Tamil and Sinhalese extremists for years to come. But peace has returned to northern Sri Lanka after decades of violence. While the war in Nigeria is over religious, not ethnic differences, many Nigerian officers believe there are lessons to be learned from Sri Lanka.

During the final year of the war in Sri Lanka the government forces faced 30,000 LTTE members. Not all were armed, but all were organized, and the army captured lots of records listing who they are. Most of these LTTE staff survived the final campaign, and the government is still looking for some of them. These are the people who could rebuild the LTTE and that is what is slowly going on.

The Sri Lankan government used some pretty brutal tactics to defeat LTTE and had to deal with criticism from Western politicians and media over the treatment of the Tamils in the north. Many prominent Europeans demanded that Tamils in refugee camps be released immediately after the LTTE was defeated. There were also calls for the Sri Lankan security forces to be prosecuted for war crimes. This sort of thing enraged the Sinhalese majority in Sri Lanka and resulted in accusations that the foreign critics were a bunch of pro-terrorist, delusional, racists who imply that the Sri Lankans cannot govern themselves. India, the original home of the Tamils (who are a minority there, comprising only about six percent of the Indian population), is much more sympathetic to the Sri Lankan government. Partly, this is to keep the Chinese out (who are offering all manner of attractive commercial deals to Sri Lanka at the moment). But India knows all about fanatical sects and political movements, and was also subject to LTTE terrorism. Europe wasn’t, and didn't understand. Thus the camps were not closed until all the LTTE members inside them were identified. Calls for war crimes prosecutions faded as more details of LTTE atrocities were revealed.

There were atrocities by the security forces, but often against Sri Lankans who don't get along with the police. Over more than two decades of terrorism and violence, the national police acquired an attitude that they are above the law. Cross the cops, and you end up dead, or maybe just beaten, or crippled. To show you a lesson. Popular anger against this sort of thing had been building for some time, and politicians realized that they could no longer get away with not dealing with it. So, after the LTTE was crushed in 2009 more police were been arrested and prosecuted for misconduct. The police in turn were ordered to crack down on the criminal gangs, who flourished during the last two decades, often by being the paid accomplices of the LTTE. There was also fear that the criminal gangs would get their hands on some of the hidden LTTE weapons and put them back into circulation. The north had over a thousand of these hidden weapons caches, each containing small quantities of weapons (rifles and pistols usually plus ammo sometimes explosives). Some have still not been found some were discovered by civilians and the stuff ended up on the black market. Much more was revealed after the LTTE defeat, like secret agents within the government and military. Interrogations of captured LTTE members revealed all sorts of stuff like that. For example, it was revealed that the cook (for the last seven years) of the head of the army was an LTTE agent. Several other well placed agents have been revealed, and there were apparently dozens more who are still in place although most were apparently trying to figure out how to flee the country, not continue as agents of LTTE.

Applying the Sri Lankan experience in Nigeria is difficult because of some key differences. The LTTE violence began in the early 1980s and by the 1990s the LTTE had inflicted several major defeats on the army, including driving out an Indian peacekeeping force. LTTE suicide bombers killed a Sri Lankan prime minister, and a former Indian prime minister. By 2002, the LTTE had taken control of 14,000 square kilometers (22 percent of the island nation of Sri Lanka), and signed a ceasefire with the government. Tamils comprised 13 percent of the 20 million people living on the island, and wanted to establish their own nation in the territory the LTTE controlled in the north and along the east coast. Non-Tamils were driven out of that LTTE territory. Negotiations with the government failed because hard line LTTE leaders insisted on partition of the island. The government and many moderate LTTE leaders were willing to allow greater autonomy but not a separate state. This led, in 2004 to a split in the LTTE, with the east coast faction making a deal with the government. Troops moved into the east coast to put down the few hard line LTTE fighters that remained there. Continued negotiations with the LTTE proved fruitless, as the hardliners still insisted on partition. The war resumed in 2006, and in 34 months of fighting, the army lost 6,200 dead and over 30,000 wounded in what it called the Eelam War IV campaign. The LTTE is believed to have lost over 20,000 fighters during this period. By the end of 2008, the LTTE had been forced into a small area on the northeast coast. The LTTE called on its Tamil supporters in southern India and overseas to demonstrate and persuade foreign governments to force Sri Lanka to stop the offensive, declare a ceasefire, and allow the LTTE to rebuild itself. That effort failed. Determining how many Tamil civilians were killed during the last few months of fighting is complicated by the fact that many of the LTTE fighters were wearing civilian clothes, and the LTTE was deliberately urging, or coercing, Tamil civilians to accompany the troops and serve as human shields. The LTTE believed in "total war", where everyone, including women and children, had to be ready to risk their lives for the cause.

Total losses for nearly 30 years of violence are about 80,000. The UN, and the NGO (non-governmental organization) aid community called for war crimes changes to be brought against Sri Lankan leaders. The NGOs claimed that the government did not do enough to avoid hitting the Tamil civilians the LTTE were using as human shields. This was a smoke screen to help protect the UN and other NGOs from charges that they aided the LTTE and helped prolong the war. This is becoming a growing problem worldwide as the NGO workers seek to make their own lives easier by getting cozy with whatever warlord are in control where the NGOs are employed. These relief operations are careers for many of the NGO personnel and an adventure for the shorter term staff. But the NGO staff don't want to get killed doing good works, so there is a growing trend to make a discreet deal with the devil, in order to get some protection in a war zone.

Nigeria does not want to spend 30 years fighting Boko Haram and the lesson from Sri Lanka is to decide early on if the foe is determined enough to drag is out for decades. If so then raise a large army and police force and go in hard, fast and with little concern about civilian casualties. As the Sri Lankans found, this approach can destroy the armed foe, but not the underlying resentments that gave rise to the rebellion in the first place.

Moreover there are several key differences in Nigeria. First, Boko Haram is potentially much larger because Moslems are half the population and a majority, or at least a large minority of those Moslems back what Boko Haram is fighting for (an end to corruption and misgovernment). But while the LTTE sought to maintain the support of the Tamil minority, Boko Haram is often very brutal towards Moslems in general, especially those who do not enthusiastically support them. The main problem the security forces have is a lack of willingness to take the effort to sort out which Moslems are hostile to the government and which are potential allies. This has long been a problem with the army and police and many military and police leaders have pushed for reform. To succeed quickly in the north those reforms have to come now. It’s uncertain if that will happen. The tradition of sloppiness and callousness towards civilians is an old one and not easily changed. Sending in a lot more soldiers and police without changing the bad old attitudes just creates more Boko Haram supporters in the north. What Nigerian officers are discovering by studying the Sri Lankan experience is that the solution involves a lot of reform, which is harder to pull off than just raising lots of new troops and police and sending them into the north.

Meanwhile There Is The Oil War

So far this year the security forces in the Niger River Delta have made a dent in the oil theft losses. By going after the barges and ships carrying stolen oil to oil brokers in neighboring countries and shutting down hundreds of improvised refinery operations losses have gone from 150,000 barrels of oil a day to about 35,000. Thus annual losses from oil theft have gone from over five billion dollars a year to about $1.2 billion.

June 19, 2014: In the north (Borno state) soldiers raided a village reported to contain Boko Haram men and encountered ten armed men and after a brief gun battle, killed them. Nine firearms were recovered as were fifteen motorcycles (which were destroyed as the troops had no way to transport them).

June 17, 2014: In the North (Yobe state) a Boko Haram bomb went off next to a crowd of people watching a World Cup game on TV, killing 21 people and wounding even more. Boko Haram considers football (soccer) and television sinful because they come from the West. Firearms and modern explosives are exempt from these prohibitions because these devices make it easier to kill sinners.

June 16, 2014: In the south (Imo state) police found and disabled three bombs discovered in a church.

June 15, 2014: In the south (Abia state, near the coast but without a coastline) police halted a convoy of 35 vans and buses carrying 486 people and arrested everyone. Two of the vehicles managed to escape. Subsequent investigations found that one of the people in the caravan was a wanted Boko Haram leader. Most of those in the convoy appear to be Moslem northerners fleeing the violence up there and headed for the Port Harcourt looking for work. All are being held until this can be confirmed. Convoys like this are not unusual as it is safer to travel from the north like this to lessen the danger from bandits. If Boko Haram wanted to get to the south safely the convoys would be a good way to go.

June 13, 2014: The U.S. announced a $5 million reward for the capture of Khalid al Barnawi, a former Boko Haram leader who broke away in 2012 to found the even more radical (and openly allied with al Quaeda) Ansaru. The feud between Boko Haram and Ansaru became more public in 2013 when criticisms of Boko Haram appeared on pro-terrorism websites. Ansaru (for Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan, or "Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa") is a Boko Haram splinter group that has become more active since declaring its existence in 2012. Ansaru objects to the Boko Haram tactics of killing lots of Moslems and wants to concentrate just killing foreigners or non-Moslem Nigerians. It is unclear how large Ansaru is and how much violence within Boko Haram, if any, will result from the split. Ansaru appears to be very small, perhaps only a few hundred members, and more interested (than Boko Haram) in working closely with Islamic terror groups operating elsewhere in Africa. This may encourage other extremist factions in Boko Haram to split off and create even more radical and violent groups like Ansaru. It’s this interest in attacking or kidnapping foreigners (especially Americans) that got the Ansaru leader on the U.S. most wanted terrorists list.

June 11, 2014: In central Nigeria (Plateau state) over a dozen gunmen attacked two communities and destroyed two churches. The violence left six civilians, five police and an unknown number of attackers dead. Boko Haram is suspected but no one took credit for the attacks.

In the northeast (Yola state) the state government banned public events where people gathered to watch televised World Cup games. This is to prevent more Boko Haram attacks on such events. The federal government warned people in areas where Boko Haram is active to avoid such events as well. The World Cup games continue until early July.

June 10, 2014: In the northeast (Borno state) a group of armed men showed up at a camp of Fulani nomadic herders and kidnapped twenty young women.

June 8, 2014: In the northeast (Gombe state) a female suicide bomber attacked outside an army base, killing three people. Across the border in Cameroon soldiers stationed in a village repulsed an attack by some Boko Haram coming from Nigeria.

June 7, 2014: In the northeast (Borno state) police ambushed a group of Boko Haram men and killed fifty of the Islamic terrorists. Further investigation revealed that the Boko Haram group was on its way to stage more raids in Borno and neighboring Adamawa state. The army has been under a lot of pressure to prevent more attacks on villages, as the ones that occurred last week appear to have killed over 400 people.

June 5, 2014: In the capital a major newspaper accused the military of ordering troops to block distribution of an edition featuring a story critical of the army leadership. The army replied that they had received a tip that the newspaper trucks were being used to smuggle illegal materials. No such materials were found.

June 4, 2014: In the northeast (Borno state) a group of Boko Haram arrived at a village and said they were itinerant preachers (a common thing in the area) and when much of the population had gathered for the sermon the Islamic terrorists opened fire killing at least 45 people. The gunmen then looted the place and set fire to many of the buildings.





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