Nigeria: The Destruction And Revival Of Boko Haram

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May 22, 2015: Despite their rather obvious defeat (losing control of dozens of towns and villages in the northeast and thousands of men killed or captured) Boko Haram is still active. The thousands of surviving Islamic terrorists need food, fuel and other supplies and depend on robbery to survive. Thus Boko Haram raids in the last two weeks have left over a hundred dead. Some of these raids were on military bases, either in an attempt to steal weapons and ammo or simply a desperate move that might succeed and embarrass the army. In addition the Islamic terrorists continue sending out suicide bombers and these have killed over fifty people in the same period. Boko Haram maintains a presence on the Internet and a network (somewhat depleted by all the news of Boko Haram atrocities) of supporters in the northeast and elsewhere in Nigeria and abroad (among Nigerian expatriates).

The army fears that Boko Haram will now revert to guerilla war and attempt to rebuild. The foreign (Chad, Niger, Cameroon) troops will soon return home, in part because Nigerian commanders have been uncooperative and seem to resent the presence of foreign troops. That is unfortunate because there are still too many incompetent and often corrupt Nigerian officers and there is no quick fix for that. The army needs help because they are spread thin in the northeast and cannot protect everything Boko Haram can still raid or attack.

The senior Nigerian generals want to declare victory in the northeast by May 29th when the new president (retired general Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Moslem) takes power. The new president was elected on promises to do something about corruption and it is agreed that one of the most corrupt government institutions is the military leadership. The military and police commanders are key to security in the northeast and there are simply not enough police and soldiers to provide security for all the communities in the northeast where there are active, armed, angry and hungry Boko Haram men. But one reason Boko Haram survives is because of the corruption, which hits young men the hardest (no jobs and no money to pay bribes to get anything from the government). Boko Haram may be defeated, but it is not destroyed and the anger against the corruption and mismanagement of the economy is still there to create more Islamic terrorists. Buhari has a four year term in which to make a difference and he made it clear he knew what the problems (mainly corruption) were and that one of the main targets would be the many corrupt officers who made the growth of Boko Haram possible.

Even before the new president takes power the military high command has ordered an investigation, and possible prosecution of 30 senior officers serving in the northeast. Tales of corrupt officers crippling counter-terror operations have been louder and louder over the last few years. More than 30 officers were involved, but the senior generals want to show they are aware of the problem and doing something about it.

The fighting in the northeast and the growing pressure to deal with corruption has left the armed forces with about 600 officers and soldiers jailed and awaiting trial (court martial). This is taking so long because it is feared that some of the accused will accuse superiors of misbehavior during their trials. This became an issue in December 2014 when an army court martial convicted 54 soldiers of mutiny and sentenced them to death. The soldiers, from units operating against Boko Haram in the northeast, said they refused orders because the necessary weapons and equipment were not provided. Some of the soldiers came right out and accused their commanders of being corrupt and ineffective. Actually executing these soldiers (by firing squad) has proved to be difficult because of the growing realization that the complaints of the convicted soldiers were probably accurate and the army leadership could be accused of trying to kill these men for exposing the corruption.

Then there is some good news, sort of. By early May the army had freed over two thousand women and (mostly) children from Boko Haram captivity and questioned all the adults before freeing them. Nearly a hundred adults are still being held because other captives accused them of supporting Boko Haram during their captivity and continuing to support the Islamic terrorists even now. The army has said little publicly about this other than to mention that some captives are being given additional medical treatment and counseling. It is known that many women and older girls are still being held for investigation of criminal activity while in captivity.

Another bit of bad news that came and went was the issue of foreign mercenaries. In December news stories began to appear that the government had decided to act on a suggestion that had been bouncing around (and leaking) for months and hire some foreign mercenaries to train and advise (lead) a task force of elite Nigerian troops to quickly crush the most determined Boko Haram resistance. After denying it for months the government eventually admitted that it had used a small number of South African mercenaries to help defeat Boko Haram in the northeast. Nigerian officials went shopping in South Africa, the country where the military term “commando” was invented over a century ago because that is where these fellows can still be found. In January a South African security firm (STTEP, for Specialized Tasks, Training, Equipment) was given a three month contract (worth nearly $4 million) to assemble a force of a hundred combat experienced trainers to help Nigeria deal with Boko Haram. The men STTEP sent consisted of whites and blacks but all were experienced (often former special operations) combat vets. A few were from outside Africa although most were South African (or from neighboring countries like Namibia). In a few weeks the STTEP force had expanded by selecting competent Nigerian troops and these few hundred men, moving quickly in trucks and a few armored vehicles as the 72nd Mobile Force Battalion, with Nigerian aircraft overhead (some with STTEP men aboard acting as spotters) quickly smashed one “troublesome” Boko Haram group after another. Boko Haram had up to ten thousand armed men in the north organized into dozens of smaller units led by charismatic men of varying military skill. The STTEP force went after the most effective Boko Haram battlegroups, which not only greatly weakened Boko Haram overall demoralized the less competent Boko Haram leaders and gunmen. This made it easier for the troops from neighboring countries to go after the remaining Boko Haram fighters. By late February Boko Haram was weakened sufficiently for the Nigerian troops to go in and carry out the final push against the demoralized and thoroughly unnerved Boko Haram fighters. STTEP was so successful that Nigeria did not extend their contract and in March the STTEP personnel left as the Nigerian Army was advancing into Boko Haram strongholds and freeing hundreds of women and children the Islamic terrorists had captured in the last year.  Nigerian officials now admit they used STTEP and there are few complaints because it worked and the mercs have gone home (where the South African government is threatening to prosecute, but that’s another story.)

In addition to the 72nd battalion the military activated a new unit of special forces (481 specialists from the army, navy, air force and police) to handle special situations in the northeast. These range from Boko Haram use of hidden bombs and suicide bombers to hostage situations and any new tactics the Islamic terrorists come up with. For example it is believed that the Islamic terrorists now have a number of children (6-10 years old) trained to transport bombs that are triggered remotely as well as some young women who are willing to be suicide bombers.

Meanwhile Chad has been quite public in its criticism of the Nigerian military leadership in the northeast. Chad sent in 2,000 soldiers and these proved to be the most effective foreign troops involved in defeating Boko Haram. Contingents from Niger and Cameroon were also effective but many of the Chadian soldiers had a lot of combat experience and very aggressive commanders. The Chad officers were dismayed to find that there was no effort by their Nigerian counterparts to coordinate operations against Boko Haram. The Chad troops were simply told to move into a particular area and deal with any Boko Haram they came across.

Aside from the danger of attacks from the remaining Boko Haram gunmen in the northeast there is a larger problem with hunger and starvation. The UN is trying to sort out what it will take to cope with the food shortages and nearly two million refugees. Over 200,000 Nigerians fled to adjacent countries since 2009 to avoid Boko Haram violence and those nations want the refugees to go home as soon as possible. Niger is accused of forcing thousands of refugees to move back to Nigeria. Most of these refugees fled in the past year. Current estimates are that it will take over a year and nearly a billion dollars in emergency aid to deal with the refugees and the economic disruptions caused by all the Boko Haram violence in the last year, especially in Borno state. It will take years to get over all the trauma and disruptions.

Over a million other refugees found sanctuary inside Nigeria. Most are reluctant to return home until they are sure Boko Haram is gone for good, many also fear their Christian neighbors. While a minority in the north, there are still many largely Christian villages and neighborhoods where defensive militias have been formed and Boko Haram has been kept out. But stories (some of them real) of Moslem neighbors turning on nearby Christians (often to avoid retribution from Boko Haram) has many Christians seeking (and exacting) revenge on their returning Moslem neighbors. It will take a while for these hatreds to subside. Meanwhile Boko Haram has caught the attention of Christians worldwide. That’s because in 2013 over 2,100 Christians were killed worldwide for their beliefs and that number more than doubled in 2014 and continued to grow in 2015. In 2013 some 29 percent of those deaths were in Nigeria and that rose in 2014 to more than half. The hardest hit community in the northeast are the several hundred thousand Christians living in and near Maiduguri (the capital of Borno state). Boko Haram sought out Christian towns, villages and neighborhoods and killed over 5,000 Christians (mostly Catholics) in Borno state.  A disproportionate number of the kidnapped women and girls were Christian. Some 90 percent of the worldwide Christian deaths (for religious reasons) were at the hands of Islamic terrorists. Boko Haram and ISIL are the worst offenders accounting for over 80 percent of the martyred Christians in 2013 and 2014. Nearly a third of the world population is Christian and at least 100 million of them are constantly threatened by anti-Christian militants. Nowhere is the threat more intense right now than in northeast Nigeria.

May 20, 2015: In central Nigeria (Plateau state) several hundred Fulani tribesmen attacked two Christian villages killing 26 people and stealing cattle. The Fulani are angrier than usual because soldiers have been catching up with some of their raiding parties, killing some of the Fulani and returning stolen cattle. This time police responded by imposing a night time curfew a week ago but the security forces have not got the manpower to enforce it everywhere in this largely rural area. So far this month there have been several hundred casualties from these raids, including at least 70 dead. Tribal violence in this area has been a problem for generations because Moslem and Christian tribes do not get along. The violence has gotten worse in the last few years. Moslem nomadic Fulani tribesmen have been fighting with Christian and pagan farmers in Plateau State and outside the city of Jos for years. The violence has gotten worse now and there were over a thousand casualties in 2013 and nearly as many in 2014. Boko Haram has claimed involvement, but that appears to be marginal and in recent incidents apparently done by Fulani warriors simply to terrorize their victims further. The Moslem tribes have long claimed that the government was sending Christian soldiers and police to persecute them because of their religion (not because they were constantly attacking Christian farmers). The settled (farming) tribes have been there a long time and in the last few decades more Moslem tribesmen have come south looking for pasturage and water for their herds and have increasingly used force to get what they want.

May 19, 2015: In the northeast (Adamawa state) a Boko Haram suicide bomber killed six people in a cattle market.

May 18, 2015: The army reported they had seized ten Boko Haram camps in the Sambisa Forest over the weekend. This follows the capture of more than twenty other camps in the week before. Troops continued searching for the thousands of Islamic terrorists known to have fled into the Sambisa Forest when they were chased out of towns and villages they had occupied in the last year. As soldiers advanced deeper into the Sambisa Forest they encountered older and better protected (with landmines and traps) camps and these slowed things down as engineers deal with the mines and traps. These devices are causing more casualties than Boko Haram gunfire as the Islamic terrorists apparently have orders to keep retreating until they find a hideout the troops are less likely to discover. Troops have been in this large (60,000 square kilometers), hilly, sparsely populated area for a month now. The forest straddles the borders of Borno, Yobe and Adamwa states and has long been a hideout for Boko Haram. Since 2014 the forest has been under constant aerial surveillance by Nigerian and American aircraft. Thus the troops on the ground had a lot of information, but were warned to be careful about things you cannot spot from the air, like minefields and ambushes. It will take months to carefully search the entire forest and the small (a few dozen gunmen) bands of Boko Haram will keep moving.

May 16, 2015: In the northeast (Yobe state) a Boko Haram suicide bomber in a bus station killed seven. Elsewhere in the northeast (Adamawa state) several dozen Boko Haram gunmen raided a village in an area declared free of the Islamic terrorists two months ago. The raiders killed three people while kidnapping seven women and looting several houses. In nearby Borno state a group of Boko Haram raided the largely deserted town of Marte and announced that they had reoccupied it. But there were no security forces in the deserted town and the Boko Haram men fled when some soldiers did show up in response to the media announcement that Boko Haram had reoccupied Marte.

May 14, 2015: In the northeast (Yobe state) a Boko Haram suicide bomber was prevented from getting into a college campus because of suspicious security personnel and students. The attacker set off his explosives, killing only himself. His two associates were spotted and arrested.

May 13, 2015: Over 10,000 refugees have returned from camps in Niger to reoccupy their homes in the north.

May 10, 2015: In the northeast, on the Cameroon side of the border two Cameroon soldiers were killed when they confronted a group of Boko Haram gunmen. Three of the Islamic terrorists were killed and the rest fled back into Nigeria. In the previous week at least twenty people have died because of Boko Haram raids on Cameroon villages near the Nigerian border. Boko Haram groups have also been raiding in Niger, but not nearly as much as in Cameroon, whose border is adjacent to areas of Borno state where Boko Haram has been most active for years.

 

 

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