The December deadline is here and everyone now understands that there is no quick fix strategy, automatic weapon or magic button that can defeat Boko Haram or terrorism in general. In the second week of September, there was a noticeable reduction in Boko Haram attacks, but this was soon followed by a spike in attacks. Similarly, in the first week of November, there was also a noticeable decrease in attacks, but two weeks later, there was a significant spike.
These lulls in attacks are indicative of insurgent stockpiling, replenishing and preparing for a new wave in attacks. Security officials need to learn to identify these lulls and capitalize on them by intensifying their targeting efforts through increased surveillance, intelligence gathering and communication interception especially on known supply routes border crossings
The fight against the Boko Haram insurgency had initially improved to some extent. One of the speakers in Borno State House of Assembly recently stated that all but one of the 19 Local Governments formerly under Boko Haram has been liberated. But despite the successful military operations including a Nigerian Air Force air strike that targeted a big gathering of Boko Haram followers, or the Cameroonian offensive that led to the death of 100 insurgents and the release of 900 hostages, members of Boko Haram are still carrying out attacks within the region and further inward Nigeria including Kano, while members were recently identified and apprehended in Abuja as well.
Earlier in the month, the military arrested an 11 year old boy at Dalori IDP camp in Maiduguri, who they said was the youngest person on the Boko Haram’s 100 most wanted list. The child confessed that he had been trained by an IED expert and had been sent to the IDP camp to stay dormant until he was called up to carry out his attack.
Boko Haram is increasing their reliance on IED attacks indicating an augmented ease, speed and expertise in making the devices. In order to counter this, the security officials need to get serious about tracking the flow of the components used in making these IEDs. Security operatives and Explosive Ordinance Disposal units have apprehended and come in contact with a number of IEDs they were able to diffuse before detonation. They should utilize known tactics in tracing where these components are coming from.
For example, most people are aware of the use of dye in tracking or tracing the flow of liquid when there is a leak; Or the age old float tracing method which consists of throwing a buoyant object into waterflow to see where it goes or emerges. A similar method can be used in countering the flow of IED components in the market. Controlled or dud detonators can be put into the supply chain of the insurgent’s area of operation and one these are used, the IEDs will not detonate, and once suspects are apprehended, we would be able to better trace where they came from.
Back in October, the Nigerian Army had warned of the impending difficulty to be faced due to the weather changes. The Harmattan has severely decreased visibility conditions and thus may be the reason why military members have been caught off guard. But if this is the case, why is Boko Haram getting the upper hand with the bad weather. Some may argue that it is because of they have local terrain knowledge to their advantage. If that is the case, then security operatives should enlist the help of the local Civilian Vigilantes to advise them.
First, there was an attack that occurred in Niger in which about 10 insurgents crossed the Komadougou-Yobe River from Nigeria into Niger, burned down 50 homes and then departed via the same means. There was also another attack in Madagali, Adamawa where insurgents were said to have arrived in 3 vehicles, burned down a military base, and attacked soldiers who reportedly fled.
Secondly, there was an attack near the Army Chief’s village, where insurgents invaded the area, around 3.30 am and operated till 5am unimpeded. They supposedly took their time in separating girls from married women and kidnapped the girls. Some villagers claim that they notified soldiers that Boko Haram members were approaching the village but they said that the soldiers shot in the air but stayed away. According to the report, “it seemed the soldiers were afraid to confront them”.
Thirdly, there was a raid that took place in Magumeri local government Borno state, where insurgents attacked the area to cart away foodstuff. In this instance, some of the villagers believe it was a revenge mission because the community had handed over 17 Boko Haram insurgents in the previous weeks. Such resupply attacks used to be a weekly occurrence, but had significantly decreased since the recent major military offensive.
Military Still Experiencing Challenges
All these attacks reveal challenges within the Nigerian and Regional military:
Firstly, it reveals that known Boko Haram areas of operation are not under constant surveillance. If the area was constant aerial surveillance, the insurgents would have been spotted while utilizing water transportation to cross the borders, carrying out attacks for hours. Aerial surveillance would have detected the inferno attributed to the burning down numerous houses. Soldiers that were under attack would have been able to radio in their current situation and adequate air fire power would have responded.
Secondly, reports of troops fleeing enemy attacks, and recent military bases being overrun by insurgents are indicative of poor logistics, inadequate weapons or low morale. It is important to note that this is not an issue faced primarily by the Nigerian Army; it is one that involves the regional joint forces. The highly anticipated 8,700 strong MNJTF which many believed will be the panacea in dealing Boko Haram the ultimate final blow appears to be struggling as well. There are reports indicating that the Chadian partner forces are not being completely cooperative on this joint endeavor.
One of the key take aways from the Paris attacks is that the need for border controls and regional cooperation is vital in defeating terrorism. One of the perpetrators of the attacks has been on the run since that dreaded day and European Security officials have expressed concerns about the ease with which the attacker has been able to move around Europe. This setting is in a highly organized highly technical and information database-heavy part of the world.
Now imagine the porous borders here in West Africa and the ease with which Boko Haram members are able to cross the borders to flee, carry attacks, hide weapons, and establish safe havens. Other regional countries initially thought that Boko Haram was a Nigerian issue, but increased attacks within their borders in recent months have shown them otherwise. Each regional country involved in this counter insurgency battle need to see themselves as representing the wheels on a car. If one tire is flat it will make driving on a highway at full speed virtually impossible. Every nation needs to operate at the same level of effectiveness in order to root out Boko Haram.
Boko Haram Must be Fought by All
Everyone should understand that countering this constantly evolving terrorism threat is going to require exceptional cooperation among agencies- national and international, nations- regional, continental and worldwide, communities – local and nationwide and private stakeholders.
Years of dealing with this insurgency has indeed shown us that friends and family members are in the best position to detect early signs of radicalization, or that an individual is involved in actively supporting a terrorist network. There was a recent incident in Niger where Boko Haram attacked a village in that country and killed the Emir of the town. The Emir was slaughtered by his own nephew! Family members risk their own lives, if they choose not to involve themselves in preventing a kin’s affiliation with the insurgency, through a de-radicalization or disengagement programs.
To quote James Forest PhD, professor and former director of terrorism studies at the U.S. Military Academy, “The good news—based on the historical record and scholarly research—is that all terrorist groups come to an end, someday and some way or another”. This was the case in the IRA in Northern Ireland, FARC in Colombia and the Maitatsine Uprising in Northern Nigeria.
This Boko Haram insurgency will end! But it is going to take a complicated, multi-faceted and long-term endeavor and all nations, security agencies and members of the public need to be ready to stay the course and do what needs to be done in countering this insurgency.