SUCCESSES AND CHALLENGES OF AIRSTRIKES IN NIGERIA’S COUNTER-TERRORISM STRATEGY

Introduction

Terrorism is one of the most significant threats to peace, security, stability, human rights, and social and economic development. The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has deployed the use of airstrikes as a counter-terrorism measure to curb the operations of terrorist groups in Nigeria, which predominantly are Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Boko Haram terrorists. These airstrikes are primarily carried out in Niger, Yobe, Zamfara, Borno, Nasarawa, Kaduna, and Katsina States.

Successful Operations

Successful airstrikes which entail disrupting terrorist operations by targeting their bases, supply routes, and commanders have been recorded by the NAF. These operations demand, but are not limited to, precise and timely intelligence, as well as cooperation between armed forces, intelligence agencies, and international allies to ensure precision targeting and minimal collateral damage. These operations may erode the group’s capabilities, reduce its operational area, and damage its ability to plan and carry out missions. On 10 August 2022, the Nigeria Air Force (NAF) launched air strikes, killing 28 bandits, including bandit leader Alhaji Shanono in North Central Kaduna State. On 2 November 2023, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) under Operation Hakin Kai fired airstrikes at terrorist camps and reportedly neutralized 160 terrorists in Geidam and Gwoza Local Government Areas in Yobe and Borno States. On 6 November 2023, the NAF reportedly neutralized an unconfirmed number of terrorists in Asagar village, Mobbar Local Government Area, Borno State. On 11 October 2023, at least 100 bandits were reportedly killed by the airstrikes of the Air Component of Operation Hadarin Daji (OPHD) in the Maru Local Government Area of Zamfara State.

Collateral Damage

Airstrikes can do significant damage to terrorist groups, but these operations frequently have limitations that inadvertently cause civilian casualties or damage infrastructure, leading to public backlash and negative sentiment towards the government or the forces conducting the strikes. According to reports, between September 2017 and 2023, military accidental bombings killed an estimated 425 people.

The Nigerian Air Force MI-35M releases flares during deployment

In Borno State, on 17 January 2017, an accidental airstrike on an Internally Displaced Person’s camp in Rann Town, Kala Balge Local Government Area resulted in 172 casualties including 52 fatalities, and on 13 April 2020, 17 people, including children, were killed after a NAF fighter jet bombed Sakotoku village in Damboa Local Government Area of the State. In Katsina State, a NAF fighter jet struck Kunkuna village in the Safana Local Government Area resulting in 14 casualties including a fatality on 7 July 2022. In Niger State, a NAF fighter jet reportedly fired a bomb targeted at terrorists in Kurebe village in Shiroro Local Government Area which resulted in 6 civilian fatalities, all children in April 2022.  Similarly, in January 2023, an accidental airstrike at the border linking Benue and Nasarawa states at the Doma Local Government Area in Nasarawa State resulted in 37 fatalities. Most recently, an accidental airstrike occurred at Kaduna State during Maulud celebrations in Tudun Biri of the Igabi Local Government Area resulting in 151 casualties, including 66 fatalities on 3 December 2023.

Conclusion   

Although airstrikes can be part of counter-terrorism efforts, their success depends on a larger strategy that includes intelligence gathering, socioeconomic development, governance improvements, community engagement, and diplomatic measures to address the root causes of terrorism and prevent its resurgence.

Image Source: Daily Post/Humangle

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