EAGER to show that it has not lost its capacity to wreak havoc, Boko Haram has again been bombarding the Nigerian military. To underscore their readiness to fight to the death, the jihadists have launched horrendous attacks on Nigerian soldiers in Borno and Yobe states. They first ambushed a military convoy before attacking a military base, both within a space of 24 hours. Trying to contain the damage, the military authorities have been coy about the extent of damage to life and property. The upsurge bodes ill for the country.
The attacks represent a dampener for the military’s confidence. In the initial episode, the militants ambushed a military convoy in Bama, Borno State. In the ensuing fighting, scores of soldiers from the 21 Brigade were displaced. Aside from those missing in action, an AFP report said the corpses of 10 soldiers were recovered after the skirmishes, in addition to the members of the Civilian Joint Task Force that died. Although the military officials later confirmed the incident, the casualty number is hazy. This weird, opaque method negates global best practices in military circles. In the 14 years to 2015, the British government stated that 456 members of its Army, Royal Air Force, Royal Marines and Special Forces lost their lives in the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan. This is openness.
The second attack, which occurred in nearby Yobe State, a day later, was just as devastating for the military. This time, the jihadists used their huge number to overwhelm the 81 Division Forward Brigade located at Jilli, Geidam. The base also lost some of its equipment to the insurgents. The base reportedly has over 700 personnel, with most of them just deployed from Lagos in the theatre of war. Initial reports said less than just 100 troops were accounted for after a fierce encounter that lasted for over two hours.
This is revealing. For Boko Haram to attack the base before the new arrivals had settled down to business suggests strongly that it still has moles in the security apparatus. Without a counter-operation to smoke out these infiltrators, the military might continue to suffer heavy losses. This will unduly prolong the insurgency, which manifested fully in 2009 when Boko Haram gained worldwide notoriety by attacking security agents and soft targets in the North-East.
It is also a reversal of the gains made by the military in the past few years. On assuming office in May 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari had rejuvenated the anti-terror war. His infusion of fresh impetus into the war, which has claimed over 100,000 lives since inception (according Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State), saw the military recapturing the territories confiscated by the insurgents.
Under Tukur Buratai, the Chief of Army Staff, the military made inroads into the Sambisa Forest, the stronghold of the terrorists. Instructively, Boko Haram operations are now largely restricted to the North-East. On July 18, the Intelligence Response Team, a special team of police officers, finally arrested 22 top Boko Haram commanders. Some of them played major roles in the April 2014 abduction of 276 Chibok schoolgirls, suicide bombings and the ambush of security operatives, said Damian Chukwu, the Borno State Commissioner of Police.
Nevertheless, the fresh attacks hint at the tenuous hold of the military on the reclaimed territories, which should not be the case. In February, a Boko Haram breakaway faction had kidnapped another set of 106 schoolgirls in Dapchi, Yobe State. About two million persons, who have been displaced internally by the insurgency, are yet to return home because they are susceptible to attacks. All this underlines the tenacity of the Salafist ideology driving the Boko Haram insurgency. Therefore, it is high time the country devised fresh winning strategies to defeat the militants.
Normally, a military base is a fortress. As such, it ought to be impenetrable for Boko Haram. Repelling attacks by insurgents is not good enough, the military have to up the ante. They should be the first to go on the all-out offensive against the jihadists. When the terrorists are on the defensive, they will be incapable of mounting attacks on military formations.
If there must be an end to this war soon, it will come by scaling up intelligence gathering and infiltration of Boko Haram operations. In this wise, high technology becomes relevant. The Buhari administration should equip the military and the State Security Service with more technological tools, and training of officers in counter-insurgency. Enlisting the assistance of Israel, the United States, Britain and France, countries that have experienced a high degree of Islamist terrorism before, can make a world of difference between success and failure.
It is an open fact that Boko Haram insurgents are a well-motivated bunch. Apart from financial inducement, the false ideology of paradise and martyrdom fuels their rabid rebellion against constituted authorities. To counter this, the military should make the welfare of soldiers on the warfront paramount.
There is no greater morale booster than success in the battlefield. This, the United States understands perfectly well with the operation that eliminated al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, in 2011. He was trailed doggedly and killed by US Navy SEALs in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Thus, the military have to score big by targeting Abubakar Shekau, who assumed the Boko Haram leadership when Mohammed Yusuf died in 2009. Not him alone: also, to be taken out is Abu-Mus’ab al-Barnawi, the factional Boko Haram leader, whose group specialises in attacking the security forces. By eliminating the leaders, the sect would have lost some grounds to the Nigerian military, which just reshuffled the pack in the theatre of war.