In the last three weeks, the war against Boko Haram in the northeast (Borno state) got more intense. ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) affiliate ISWAP
(Islamic State West Africa Province) has been the most effective Boko Haram faction and deliberately goes after security forces in those areas (northern Borno state) while the less violent Boko Haram faction, which is about half the strength of ISWAP, dominates central Borno State.
ISWAP has dominated the northern Borno for several years and resisted repeated efforts to destroy or greatly diminish the Boko Haram presence in Borno and adjacent countries (Chad, Niger and Cameroon) and Nigerian states (Yobe and
. The main opponent to ISWAP has been the Nigerian military and the
MNJTF (Multi-National Joint Task Force). The 8,700 man MNJTF force maintains bases and camps near Lake Chad and concentrates on hunting down and killing ISWAP gunmen. MNJTF has taken the lead in containing ISWAP and blocking the Islamic terrorist efforts to once more control territory in the region.
Formed in early 2015 the MNJTF consists of troops from Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Benin and Nigeria. At first, the MNJTF was used mainly inside Nigeria but by early 2017 MNJTF was spending most of its time clearing Boko Haram out of border areas, especially the Lake Chad coast. Each member country assigns some of their best troops to the MNJTF and the Boko Haram have suffered heavy losses trying to fight MNJTF. This played a role in the 2016 Boko Haram split that turned Boko Haram operating near Lake Chad into ISWAP. MNJTF concentrated more and more on the areas around Lake Chad and has been successful at curbing ISWAP operations there. Unfortunately, MNJTF is not present in most of Borno State and there are already some Borno areas where ISWAP collects ”taxes” and maintains order because MNJTF isn’t present. These taxes are actually an extortion scheme but it is how Islamic terrorists or ambitious bandits began establishing control over the territory.
Although still a faction of Boko Haram, ISWAP also considers itself the primary ISIL “province” (chapter, division, franchise or whatever) in Africa. As a result, national borders are less important and ISWAP has become a threat to all the countries (Chad, Cameroon, Libya, Niger, Nigeria and the Central African Republic/CAR) bordering Lake Chad. This is nothing new because in 2015 these Lake Chad nations agreed to cooperate in dealing with the growing Boko Haram violence along the southern shore of Lake Chad. While that effort had some success ISWAP refused to abandon the area,
This Boko Haram presence had reached the point where the Islamic terrorists would regularly steal fishing boats and move along the coast and increasingly occupy some of the many small islands as bases. As the Boko Haram groups operating in northern Borno State evolved into ISWAP, ISIL sent experienced personnel from Syria and Iraq who helped ISWAP with technical matters like bomb-building techniques and how to use commercial quadcopters for planning attacks and tracking the local soldiers and police. American and French aerial and electronic intelligence in the region and the Middle East have confirmed the connection to what is left of the ISIL base area in Syria/Iraq. Contact between ISIL headquarters and ISWAP, while irregular, is maintained. ISWAP is, just from monitoring mass media reports, the most active ISIL faction at the moment and the Nigerian leaders of ISWAP want to keep it that way. This pays propaganda dividends in Nigeria and neighboring countries where it makes recruiting easier and extortion victims more willing to “pay their taxes.” All this has also made ISWAP a primary target for Nigerian and international forces. ISWAP is learning that being in that kind of spotlight makes it a primary target for a lot more attackers.
Recent events demonstrate that ISWAP can take heavy losses and keep going. ISWAP now claims that they have driven Chad troops out of Nigeria because Chad now says it will no longer send troops into Nigeria as part of MNJTF. In reality, Chad has stopped sending troops into Nigeria unofficially during the last year. This was so Chadian forces could concentrate on expelling ISWAP groups from southern Chad. That is now the official Chad priority.
Borno State is still where most of Boko Haram forces are based and operate. Since Boko Haram sustains itself via looting, it is always looking for easy (unguarded) targets in the form of rural villages and towns. More and more of these places either get a military or police garrison or form a self-defense militia. These places are less likely to be attacked as Boko Haram seeks out the less lethal (for the attackers) targets. It is bad for Boko Haram morale (and recruiting) if too many looting raids turn into battles that the Islamic terrorists sometimes lose. ISWAP organizes its forces into dozens of dispersed groups that get a territory to live off and establish informants to determine where the most vulnerable targets are. Raiding an area too often either leads to better defenses there or most of the population fleeing their homes and heading for refugee camps. As a result, Boko Haram had had to expand its raiding activities into the neighboring states of Yobe and Adamawa as well as neighboring countries.
When enough ISWAP groups have made themselves comfortable and secure in their assigned area they can contribute mobile (using trucks and motorcycles) fighters that become part of a larger attack force that can inflict a major defeat on the military. That’s what happened on March 23rd to the Chad army base on
Island. The Chad forces got sloppy and ISWAP took advantage of that. The Chad Army is usually more professional and effective than that and the
Bohoma raid will motivate commanders to do better. This may backfire on ISWAP but at the moment ISWAP is ignoring the recent losses on the Lake Chad coast and Abubakar Sheka, the ISWAP leader, declared a victory. He also sent out a second video message urging his followers to remain firm and defeat enemy attacks. This message was an acknowledgment of recent heavy ISWAP losses in southern Chad.
Other Ways To Die
Tribal feuds and large scale banditry continue to kill more people in Nigeria than Boko Haram. Their problems are more of a constant than periodic outbreaks of Islamic terrorism in Moslem majority areas of northern Nigeria.
Coronavirus (Covid19) has reached Nigeria but so far there are only 373 confirmed cases and 11 confirmed deaths. There are probably more of both because Nigeria does not have a national health system capable of widespread testing for covid19 or treatment of all those found to have it. Most of the cases detected so far have been down south in the port city of Lagos. A densely populated and relatively prosperous place, Lagos gets lots of foreign visitors and it was expected that this was where covid19 would first show up in Nigeria. For most of the country the virus will probably not show up at all and if it does will cause some additional “fever” related deaths. There are a lot of afflictions in Nigeria that result in a fever and eventual death. The government says it will deal with covid19 but won’t discuss how because there are no resources for a nationwide response other than warning people to stay away from anyone who appears to be infected. This will result in some mistaken identity incidents but without widespread testing it will never be known how many were infected and died from this virus. That is what happened with earlier pandemics which were hardly noticed.
April 11, 2020: Chad claims that operations against Boko Haram near Lake Chad have eliminated 90 percent of Boko Haram personnel in northeastern Nigeria and adjacent countries. This offensive cleared all the Lake Chad islands off the coasts of Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon in that area. These islands have long been used as bases and hideouts by Boko Haram.
April 9, 2020: In response to recent defeats versus ISWAP in Borno and Chad, the Nigerian Army chief of staff have moved to an army camp in Borno State to oversee retaliatory operations against ISWAP.
April 7, 2020: In the northeast (Borno state) soldiers clashed with Boko Haram at Ngala, near the river that forms the border with Cameroon. Two Boko Haram men were killed and the rest got away.
Elsewhere in Borno troops from Niger and Nigeria cornered a large group of Boko Haram Haram at Kukawa, near Lake Chad and killed about forty of the Islamic terrorists.
In the northeast corner of Borno Boko Haram raiders killed three people.
Troops from Chad have been very active against Boko Haram in the Lake Chad area and in the last month have clashed with Boko Haram numerous times, killing about a thousand of them while losing 52 soldiers with about 200 wounded. The offensive was triggered by a March 23 Boko Haram attacks on a Chad army base that killed nearly a hundred soldiers. Chad also said it would no longer send troops into Nigeria
April 6, 2020: In the northeast (Borno state) soldiers clashed with Boko Haram at Kukawa, near Lake Chad and killed nineteen of the Islamic terrorists.
April 5, 2020: In the northeast, across the border in Cameroon two Boko Haram suicide bombers killed seven civilians in a remote village. Northern Cameroon has been a battle zone for years because of Boko Haram. In 2019 the area suffered 275 Boko Haram related deaths. The casualties continue into 2020 but at a lower rate, at least so far.
April 3, 2020: In the northeast (Borno state), troops caught up with a group of ISWAP Islamic terrorists at Kukawa, near Lake Chad and killed at least six of the Islamic terrorists.
March 31, 2020: General Olusegun Adeniyi, the commander of troops in the northeast, mainly Borno state, was replaced. Adeniyi was known as a good commander but he had recently gone public with complaints about lack of weapons and equipment and poor performance by military intelligence. These are legitimate complaints but as previous officers in Adeniyi’s position discovered, speaking out publicly gets you fired.
In the northeast (Borno state), outside Gwoza, a town near the Cameroon border, an airstrike killed 5-10 Boko Haram men as the air force continued its armed aerial patrols of the area. On the ground troops killed another seven Boko Haram men in the same area.
March 28, 2020: In the northeast (Borno state), ISWAP Islamic terrorists killed five people. Near Maiduguri, the state capital, Boko Haram raiders killed six civilians.
March 23, 2020: In the northeast (Borno State), Boko Haram gunmen ambushed an army supply truck carrying ammunition from Maiduguri (the state capital). The gunfire killed some troops and the cargo exploding killed some more. The army sent reinforcements who were also ambushed. Total army casualties were at least fifty dead and many more wounded.
Further north across the Chad border on the island/peninsula of Bohoma off the Lake Chad coast Boko Haram attacked the Chad army base there, killing about a hundred soldiers and wounding even more. ISWAP looted the base and used captured boats to get the loot back to the Nigeria shore. This rare defeat at the hands of Boko Haram enraged Chad and more troops were brought in and a major offensive launched against Boko Haram groups on Lake Chad islands. Chad army commanders thought they had defeated and scared off ISWAP in the area around Bohoma. That led to part of the Bohoma garrison being sent somewhere else. Chad Army intelligence did not adequately monitor the ISWAP reaction, which was to note the vulnerability of the Bohoma base and realize that ISWAP was strong enough to create a large attack force and hit the Bohoma base with a surprise attack.
March 18, 2020: In the northeast (Borno State), an airstrike
near Abadam, on the Lake Chad
coast, killed several
ISWAP Islamic terrorists.
March 15, 2020: In the northeast (Borno State), outside Bama, near the Cameroon border a brief battle left six soldiers and three Boko Haram gunmen dead.
March 14, 2020: In the northeast (Borno state), an airstrike against Boko Haram outside Kukawa, near Lake Chad killed 5-10 gunmen.
March 12, 2020: In the northeast (Borno state), Nigerian and Chadian soldiers operating against Boko Haram around Kukawa, near Lake Chad found and killed several of the Islamic terrorist leaders they were searching for.
Elsewhere in Borno the air force carried out an airstrike outside Gwoza, a town near the Cameroon border that killed several dozen Boko Haram gunmen.