Bulwark Intelligence

Why is Boko Haram still able to successfully carry out attacks?

Boko Haram attacks the neighboring countries; Cameroon, Chad and Niger all experienced bombing attacks

The 3 month deadline is looming nearer but there are still frequent Boko Haram attacks taking place. It seems as if every time a timeline is given on when the demise of the group will occur, the insurgents become hell bent on making a mockery out of it.

Nigeria is not alone in experiencing the wrath of this Boko Haram resurgence, neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger all experienced bombing attacks this month. According to Amnesty International, the Boko Haram conflict has led to the deaths of at least 1,600 people since the start of June. An AFP tally indicated that this month alone over 100 people have been killed in Nigeria, while nearly 1,370 have died since President Muhammadu Buhari came to power on May 29.

Continued bombing attacks perpetrate fear in the minds of Nigerians, it scares away much needed investors, and it’s hampering economic growth around the country. But despite this reality, the President is confident that Boko Haram’s ability to attack and hold any Nigerian territory will be completely eliminated. The Borno state governor recently stated that before Buhari assumed office “Borno was in a very sorry state as Boko Haram terrorists had 20 councils under them, now; all but three have been liberated”.

The President also mentioned that things have gotten better within the military as well. He said troops have been reorganized, retrained, and re-equipped. But if the situation is really as rosy as the government claim it is, why then has Boko Haram been able to continue their bombing attacks?

The Situation According to the Executive

In an interview President Buhari gave on Al-Jazeera, he stated that “Boko Haram’s area of operation had been limited to mainly Borno and Yobe states, that the group had been “reduced” to using IEDs “only” and that all their occupied ground had been taken back as the group is now virtually confined to Sambisa forest. He also stated that they were “highly disorganized”.

Based on the fact that these comments came directly from the President, it is presumed that this is the mindset of the administration and the defense chiefs. If that is the case, there seems to be some gaps between their beliefs and what is being reported in the news.

The military offensive has indeed been effective in driving out Boko Haram from a lot of their strong holds, but contrary to what the president said, their areas of operation have not been limited to just Borno and Yobe states. There has been an uptick in bombing attacks carried out in Adamawa and in the neighbouring countries (Niger, Chad and Cameroon). This month we saw an attack in Abuja, we witnessed arrests of suspected Boko Haram insurgents in other parts of the country including Enugu and Lagos state, and there are even some disturbing reports that some insurgents have been operating in Kogi state. The military offensive actually seems to have dispersed the members of the group to other parts of Nigeria where military presence is not as prevalent and where they can carry out additional attacks and achieve their expansion goals.


Boko Haram’s Reliance on IEDs Must Not Be Down played

The second thing the president said was that the group had been “reduced” to IED attacks. The truth is that the adoption of IED attacks is by no means a reduction. Instead, it has just escalated the fight to a whole new level. It has taken the fight from “Boko Haram versus security operatives”, to “Boko Haram versus every single Nigerian”.

Employing IEDs is an efficient and effective method of attack due to the ease of acquisition of inexpensive and readily available materials to make the bombs. IED attacks also cause mass casualties, which in turn gives Boko Haram a lot of publicity, making them seem more powerful than they are.

Buhari stated that “the use of IEDs by Boko Haram may continue beyond the target that we gave, but Boko Haram attacks on townships, military installations, will certainly stop”. Unfortunately, that is not the case at all. If the use of use of IEDs continues, then the attacks on townships and military installations will continue as well. The insurgents will simply employ these same IED tactics to physical structures as we have seen in the recent bombing attacks against Mosques and other places of gathering. As long as the insurgents deem IED attacks an effective attack strategy, they will more than likely attempt to use it against military installations as well.

Boko Haram is Re-strategizing; Is the Military Doing the Same?

The insurgents had reduced conventional full frontal scale attacks against troops and their installations. However, we saw a resurgence of this tactic again this month. There was an incident in which about 100 insurgents were said to have been killed, after they attacked a military installation in Yobe. There was also another incident in Adamawa in which at least 30 insurgents confronted soldiers in Madagali Local Government Area and were killed by the troops there.

A recent incident in Adamawa state indicated a possible Boko Haram strategy change when insurgents raided a village, forcing residents to flee into a nearby bush and then deployed two suicide bombers to join the fleeing villagers. The bombers then detonated in the bush where many villagers were hiding and other fleeing survivors were shot at by the insurgents.

All these incidents occurred this month, this shows that attacks on townships and military installations are still ongoing despite the military’s best efforts to track down and dislodge insurgents from the North-East. The military was making great gains in taking back territory and clearing out the conspicuous Boko Haram hideouts, but it appears that the terrorist group has since changed their strategy and adopted new tactics against the military. The same conventional methods alone will not be successful in defeating Boko Haram by December.

The military will have to re-strategize and shift to more counter-insurgency measures that are primarily intelligence led, with more efforts put into the insurgent network identification, targeting and counter-IED exploitation and analysis.


Hardly Disorganized

Another word the president used to describe the group was “highly disorganized”. But this appears to be far from the case as Boko Haram has so far been strategic in choosing their IEDs detonation locations. They have a goal of killing innocent civilians, destabilizing the country, and defeating the military and other security operatives in the country; and they seem to have a method by which they are going to accomplish this mission.

Their choice of soft-targets is indicative of a group that is thinking and following an established tactic, technique and procedure. They are choosing Mosques during prayers, attacking military installations and attempting troop ambushes, they started by deploying two suicide bombers at a go, and then three and now detonating four IEDs at the same time. When you add to that the tactic of combining village raids with suicide IEDs, it becomes apparent that the term “highly disorganized” may not apply to this group right now.

The President Needs A Red Team

There is a phenomenon that occurs in the strategic military level and even within the intelligence community known as group think. Groupthink refers to a situation whereby in-group pressure for consensus prevents common sense desire to present alternative opinions. In other words, if everyone in a group says yes to the “oga” in the room, you are afraid to say no for fear of causing disharmony or for fear of repercussions. Even though you know the correct answer is no.

For example, imagine a meeting with President Buhari and his service chiefs where the president asks them how they are doing with regards to meeting the 3 month deadline to defeat Boko Haram. Everyone in the group says the military is on track, the insurgents are now weak and all is well. One of the leaders in that meeting knows that things are not as rosy as they seem, but he is afraid to voice his opinion and provide an alternative strategy. This is what groupthink is all about.

The president’s opinion that Boko Haram’s area of operation has been limited to two states, that the group has been “reduced” to IED use “only” and that they are a “highly disorganized” group indicates to me that the president is in need of a Red Team.

A red team is an independent group that challenges the prevalent assumption and presents alternative outcomes. In the case of our example, a Red team advising the President on Boko Haram will not focus on the military’s successes, but on Boko Haram’s successes and how they are adapting and adopting new attack strategies that are successful.

Just as the president has meetings with his defense team on the status of the Boko Haram insurgency, so also must he sit with his Red team and get the status of Boko Haram’s successes. It is in doing this that the president will have a clearer understanding as to which team is really winning and who can defeat who by December.

The People Should Still Do Their Part

There is only so much the government, the multinational forces, the Nigerian military, can do to protect the community. The people still need to do their own part. For example, after a bomb blast that occurred in Borno, two people were arrested because they were seen celebrating at the incident that just occurred. According to the report, “The two men were standing from afar and hugging each other in a celebratory manner”.

Also, four suspected Boko Haram insurgents were arrested while trying to gain entrance into an IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp. It turns out members of the IDP camp confirmed the suspects’ affiliation with Boko Haram as they recognized them from their village. Those who may have previously sympathized with Boko Haram are now taking a stance against the group as they are beginning to understand the incongruous and destructive agenda of the group is in no one’s best interest. Members of the community must continue to be aware of any new or strange faces in the area and notify the appropriate authorities or report suspicious behavior even among familiar faces.

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