Nigeria: Fear The Fighting Dead

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January 17, 2016: Although Boko Haram suffered obvious and massive defeats early in 2015 the Islamic terrorist group is still active and in the second half of 2015 killed over 1,500 people. This violence is continuing into 2016. Boko Haram has been around since 2002 but did not begin its killing spree until 2009. The security forces and local militias fought back and thousands of Boko Haram died. Over a thousand armed Boko Haram remain in the northeast, hiding in the countryside. They survive by looting rural villages and attacking traffic on the main roads. This raiding and robbery is where most of the casualties come from, because Boko Haram raids are violent and meant to terrify. As the people (and sometimes police or soldiers) flee, the Islamic terrorists grab what they can and leave before reinforcements arrive. Boko Haram has to be careful because a growing number of towns and villages are forming self-defense militias. The army will help with this and respond to calls for help by militias under attack. Because of this and continued army and police activity over a thousand Boko Haram have died in the last half of 2015 and they continue to suffer losses. These Islamic terrorists are most active in parts of the northeast where Boko Haram has driven out most of the population. This is especially true in northern Borno State (between the capital Maiduguri and Lake Chad.) Most of the remaining population have armed militias and reliable police and soldiers nearby. So Boko Haram has to travel farther to find a vulnerable place to raid and plunder. That keeps the remaining Boko Haram men busy most of the time yet they still have local fans. A side effect of this is that over five million people still in the north near Lake Chad are not getting regular deliveries of food and other essentials. A growing number of people are going hungry and unless the government does something more people are going to flee their homes for areas where food is available.

Worst of all the causes of Boko Haram popularity (corruption and inefficient government) remain. Thus there are still new recruits who want to join. Since 2009 Boko Haram violence has led to over 17,000 deaths along with nearly three million fleeing their homes and nearly a million children kept from school. That last item is a big deal with Boko Haram because their name means, literally, “Western education is forbidden”. Thus over 2,000 schools, some in neighboring countries, have been damaged or destroyed. In the last six months the security forces have freed thousands of captives but few of the refugees have felt confident enough to return home. This is particularly true of the more than half a million Christians who fled the northeast since 2014. When given the opportunity Boko Haram prefers to attack non-Moslems. As a result the largest number of Christians killed in religious violence during 2015 were in Nigeria, where over 4,000 died. That was over half of the Christians murdered for religious reasons in 2015 and the first time Nigeria replaced the Middle East as the area where the most Christians are killed because of their religion. While Christians are a declining minority in the Middle East they are half the population of Nigeria and control more than half the wealth and fill more than half the technical and professional jobs (including military officers and police commanders.) The newly elected president is a Moslem and his promises to deal with Boko Haram were one reason he got a lot of Christian votes. Boko Haram will still attack soldiers or police, usually via ambush because they need weapons and ammo. Police and army uniforms are useful disguises. The security forces have become more difficult to ambush and Boko Haram seeks out self-defense militias who have modern weapons and are sloppy.

Meanwhile the security forces have gotten better at finding Boko Haram camps out in the bush and raids on these locations usually don’t catch many Islamic terrorists (who post sentries to warn of approaching troops) but do grab stockpiles of weapons, ammo, vehicles and supplies. This keeps Boko Haram too weak to carry out large scale operations against cities or military bases.

Boko Haram has tried to expand into neighboring Chad, Cameroon and Niger but has encountered more resistance (from security forces and locals) than in Nigeria. Boko Haram will still raid into these other countries but has found it too dangerous to establish bases.

President Buhari had come to power in early 2015 and promised to destroy Boko Haram by the end of the year In late December 2015 Buhari publicly declared Boko Haram defeated. He did admit that the Islamic terrorist group was not destroyed and remains a threat. The government believes the 2015 defeats has made some Boko Haram leaders, and their followers, willing to accept an amnesty deal and stop fighting but has not disclosed how many Boko Haram have expressed real interest in this program. Moreover the government has found itself unable to communicate with Boko Haram leaders or even know which of them was the supreme leader. There is concern that one reason Boko Haram survives is because the several surviving factions don’t really communicate with each other thus making it harder to gather intelligence on the entire organization. If Boko Haram has split up then negotiations become more difficult as well.

January 16, 2016: Down south in the Niger River delta MEND (Niger Delta tribal rebels) carried out over a dozen attacks and armed demonstrations in oil producing areas. This including bombing sections of several oil and gas pipelines and blocking traffic (using boatloads of heavily armed men) on key waterways for several hours. There were also several incidents of MEND gunmen speeding past a community in boats and firing randomly. Thousands of civilians fled what they feared might be some major fighting once the military and police showed up. That did not happen as the MEND gunmen fled rather than fight it out with the security forces. MEND is still around despite the 2009 amnesty deal. While many MEND members accepted the government amnesty the MEND hard core is still in business. MEND has been demanding that the army withdraw from the Delta and all prisoners be freed or else there will be a new wave of attacks on oil facilities. The attacks occurred today but the government refuses to give in. Not much else has come of these threats despite some MEND violence every week or so. The MEND rebels also want the terms of the 2009 amnesty deal enforced, and corrupt officials running the program removed. In response to those threats, the military keeps attacking MEND associated camps in the Niger delta, seizing lots of weapons and equipment, but not making many arrests. The rebels tend to hear the troops coming (usually by boat, usually after some aerial reconnaissance), and slip away into an area of numerous creeks and islands they know well. Many criminals in the delta also support rebel goals (for more autonomy in the Delta, less corruption and spending additional oil money locally). Even through the government has screwed up their end of the amnesty deal they insist that the rebels keep the peace. But corruption and mismanagement have kept many rebels from getting the amnesty benefits and the government is seen as unreliable, corrupt and a hostile force. The MEND threats have been much more ambitious than the actual attacks and it is believed that only a few people are involved in attacks on oil facilities (which are well guarded these days.)

MEND, the oil stealing gangs and the government are all suffering from the continuing low price of oil and some of the foreign firms that run Nigerian oil fields are discussing shutting down some of the more expensive (to operate) oil wells because the low oil price does not cover the cost of producing it. There is also little foreign interest in spending money to find new oil deposits or upgrade existing facilities.

January 15, 2016: In the northeast (Yobe State) several dozen Boko Haram gunmen attacked an army base before dawn. The attack was repulsed (after a four hour gun battle) with at least 14 Islamic terrorists killed and one soldier seriously wounded. In the past such attacks succeeded but the troops have learned to be particularly alert at night and before dawn because that is when bases are most vulnerable to attack. The troops recovered several automatic weapons and at least three bombs from the enemy dead.

Britain is sending another 35 military personnel to Nigeria to join the 130 already there training Nigerian personnel. Most of the British trainers are for the army but some are working with the air force. Over a thousand Nigerian troops have completed the British taught courses so far and Britain expects to train 5,000 or more before the training effort is done. The Nigerian armed forces has 80,000 troops, 78 percent of them in the army. About a quarter of the military is currently involved with the fight against Boko Haram. Western trainers and advisors not only teach combat skills but also try to change the mentality that leads to troops and police torturing and killing civilians suspected of anti-government activities. This is illegal in Nigeria but long tolerated by the government. The new government, like the last few, has accepted that this bad behavior is counterproductive and must be changed. That is a slow process.

January 14, 2016: The government ordered a new investigation of what happened to the Chibok girls and additional efforts by the security forces to find and rescue the captives. These are the most famous of the Boko Haram kidnap victims. Although over 3,000 Boko Haram captives have been rescued since last September there has been no sign of the most famous ones. Chibok (located near the Sambisa forest) was where Boko Haram raided a boarding school in early 2014 and kidnapped 276 teenage girls and older women. This was the first mass kidnapping and families of these girls have been pressuring the government to rescue these girls ever since. It was hoped that talking to the several dozen who escaped as well as all the women rescued so far from Boko Haram would provide some hints about where the Chibok girls are. That did not happen. The army later confirmed that some of the captured women had joined Boko Haram and dozens of them were killed while fighting alongside their Boko Haram husbands or while serving as suicide bombers. But most of the Chibok girls are still missing.

January 13, 2016: In neighboring Cameroon a Boko Haram suicide bomber attacked a mosque in the north, near the Nigerian border, killing 13 people. The day before Boko Haram killed two people in a nearby town. The Cameroon military has been active along the border for several months seeking to find and kill or capture all the Boko Haram still operating inside Cameroon. These latest attacks appear to have come from Boko Haram based across the border in Nigeria. Boko Haram would like to get back into Cameroon to establish bases and they believe that continuing to terrorize people living near the border will help with that.

January 9, 2016: The government announced that it is going to try and get over two million refugees in the northeast to return to their homes. This is going to be difficult because there are still dozens of Boko Haram groups still operating on the abandoned areas and the refugees do not trust government assurances that it is safe.

January 8, 2016: The United States has donated 24 MRAP armored trucks to Nigeria and another eight are on the way. These are used (in Iraq) vehicles and are among the thousands the U.S. Army has declared surplus and donated to police and military organizations worldwide. This donation more than doubles the number of MRAPs Nigeria has. Previous to this donation Nigeria had purchased a few MRAPs and found them useful in the northeast. These vehicles are expensive, costing half a million dollars (and up) each. The ones the U.S. delivered are in running condition but need regular maintenance and repairs and that will cost money, which the Nigerian military has less of because of the much reduced oil income.

January 7, 2016: France has announced it will provide military training and other aid to Cameroon to assist the country in dealing with the continuing Boko Haram threat in the far north. Cameroon borders the area of the Nigerian northeast where Boko Haram is most active.

January 5, 2016: After years of trying Pakistan and China finally got commitments from two customers (Nigeria and Sri Lanka) for the JF-17 jet fighter. This aircraft was developed in China with Pakistan as a major investor and customer. The two customers are ordering eleven JF-17s (eight for Sri Lanka) at a very attractive price. Orders for additional aircraft are likely if the first eleven perform well. Previous efforts to export the JF-17 failed because the aircraft was not considered competitive by potential customers. Pakistan has already received or ordered 110 JF-17s as part of a project that began in 1992. While it was a joint Pakistan-China effort China supplied most of the money and did most of the work. China, however, does not use the JF-17, only Pakistan and whatever export customers they can find. The JF-17 is assembled in Pakistan, although over 40 percent of the components come from China or Russia. The project has gone through several name changes (FC-1, Super 7). The 13 ton warplane is meant to be a low cost ($20-30 million) alternative to the American F-16. The JF-17 is considered the equal to earlier versions of the F-16, but only half as effective as more recent F-16 models. The JF-17 uses the same Russian engine, the RD-93 that is used in the MiG-29. The JF-17 design is based on a cancelled Russian project, the MiG-33. Most of the JF-17 electronics are Western. The JF-17 can carry 3.6 tons of weapons and use radar guided and heat seeking missiles. It has max speed of Mach 1.6, an operating range of 1,300 kilometers and a max altitude of 17,000 meters (55,000 feet). Nigeria will not be able to buy more of these until the oil price revovers.

January 3, 2016: A year ago Boko Haram attacked Baga (on Lake Chad in northeastern Borno state) and largely destroyed the town. It wasn’t until late February that Nigerian and foreign troops recaptured Baga. The Boko Haram attack emptied the town out because the Islamic terrorists continued to loot the place. Murder men and rape any women they find until no one or nothing was left. Civilians taken captive were used as slaves to bury the dead and gather loot. When the troops stormed into Baga most remaining Boko Haram panicked and fled leaving behind much of their loot as well as many weapons and much ammo. Nearly all the original 10,000 inhabitants were gone (along with nearly as many from nearby villages) and aerial and satellite photos showed that most (over 3,000) structures in Baga had been damaged or destroyed (usually by fire) during the brief Boko Haram occupation. The Baga population has still not returned nor have over two million other refugees in the northeast who are not going back to their homes until they are sure Boko Haram is gone. Many of the 200,000 people living near Baga and Lake Chad left as well. So far, few people in the northeast believe government claims that it is safe to return. Currently fewer than a thousand people are living in Baga and Boko Haram is still operating in the area despite the presence of soldiers and police.

December 30, 2015: The government said it is willing to negotiate with Boko Haram to get the Chibok girls released, or at least accounted for. There has been no response from Boko Haram.

December 28, 2015: In the northeast (in and around Maiduguri, capital of Borno State) Boko Haram carried out several attacks over the last three days that left 80 dead. This violence began a few days after the government declared Boko Haram “largely destroyed.” It has been several months since there was any large scale Boko Haram violence near Maiduguri. This time many female suicide bombers were used and many, if not most, were intercepted and killed or captured before they could detonate. Other attacks were hit and run with attackers firing from moving vehicles.

 

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