Below is an article I wrote in the New York Times about the changing nature of Boko Haram’s threat and the likely next stage in the group’s evolution.
A few excerpts:
the group now seems to spend as much time engaged in banditry as it does fighting “Western education.” When officials from Nigeria’s Office of the National Security Adviser interviewed Boko Haram prisoners, they were told that most of the group’s soldiers “have never read the Quran.”
Also the group seems to be changing tactics:
Today, Boko Haram is no longer occupying large parts of Nigeria. Instead, it has morphed into a group of well-organized bandits. The military’s successes changed Boko Haram’s threat, but didn’t eliminate it.
My article in the Guardian newspaper about the Nigerian army’s ongoing battle with Boko Haram.
An intermediary who entered Boko Haram’s camp last year to negotiate the Chibok girls’ release was shocked to find their presence dwarfed by other captives. The teenagers may represent less than 10% of the total number of hostages held by the militants, amid estimates that more than 3,000 other teenagers have been kidnapped.
Boko Haram kidnaps, rapes, and impregnates female abductees not just to sow terror but also to replenish its ranks. More than 200 of the women recently rescued are pregnant, and several of the rescued children were born and raised in Boko Haram’s stronghold in the Sambisa forest.
Boko Haram has been the beneficiary of some training and equipment from ISIL,” Barlow continued. “Prisoners have told us that Boko Haram is and has been supplied and supported by ‘Europeans’ who have arrived in their safe areas by helicopter.”
Great five part series on the recent gains made by the Nigerian army against Boko Haram. Including the role of South African private military companies, Nigerian special forces, and new weaponry received by the army.
#Nigeria Army Is “an immensely disciplined force” (British Soldier) @BBC Documentary (@BBCTheInquiry)
Very interesting documentary and interviews with Nigerian soldiers and the National Security Adviser Lt-Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd). Dasuki said:
- On the fate of Nigerian soldiers sentenced to death for mutiny: “The military law is clear…There could be executions…you know what the punishment is. It is like getting involved in a military coup”. He likened mutiny to a military coup: failure attracts death.
- Says quality of some soldiers is poor. Many soldiers joined the army simply to get a job, but without any desire to go to the battlefield.
- Denied accusations that soldiers are poorly equipped; citing the fact that Boko Haram shows of massive inventories of weapons seized from the army as evidence of how well armed the army is.
- He admits to issues in weapons procurement from Western countries, and that Nigeria “hit brick walls here and there” when trying to buy weapons from other countries. He said Western countries gave “all sorts of excuses” for not selling weapons to Nigeria.
- Over time – the military being in government does not go much good. It affects the morale and discipline of the army. The “main pre-occupation of any military administration is self-preservation. Your greatest threat is the military.” Thus their capability to overthrow a sitting military government is reduced if they are not armed to the teeth. Dasuki is well qualified to comment on this issue because he has been a part of multiple military governments and has participated in a military coup.
Colonel James Hall (former British officer who spent last 3 years of his career advising Nigerian military):
- Said he has never come across a military as disciplined as Nigeria’s: “They are an immensely disciplined force. I don’t think I’ve ever come across an African army that has a clearer says of discipline at all ranks”. Says the discipline of the Nigerian military would challenge that of Western armies. However that discipline can break when subjected to extreme pressure in the battlefield.
- However there are “massive challenges” facing the Nigerian military. “They have got it badly wrong…things have got worse rather than better”.
- “Their equipment is old, broken, and is frankly not well maintained“. Soldiers are facing Boko Haram fighters who are armed with identical weapons to the soldiers.
- Communications are poor – commanders often try to communicate with their units using mobile phones (which are unreliable, and often get switched off during military operations).
- Thinks Nigeria’s military should be given pick-up trucks, APCs, and radios.
- Training: there was a time when the Nigerian army was “the best trained” and one of the best equipped armies in Sub-Saharan Africa. military takes academic training very seriously but “their tactical training is not as good as they think it is”. Troops need more combat training, e.g. coping in a firefight/combat.
The Nigerian National Security Adviser (NSA) Lt-Colonel Sambo Dasuki (retired) was spoke at Chatham House in London last week, in much publicised comments. Although Dasuki usually keeps a low profile he spoke frankly about many issues relating to Nigeria’s upcoming elections next month and the security threat posed by Boko Haram. Highlights from the NSA’s talk and answers to questions from the audience:
- He said that Nigeria will develop a new civil-military relations doctrine; to redefine how the military relates to the public – especially in areas where it conducts counter-insurgency operations. The military needs to move doctrinally from conventional warfare to asymmetric warfare. Nigeria has created a National Counter-Terrorism Center.
- He admitted that there have been “historical deficits” in the military; including the fact that the last significant weapons procurement for the Nigerian military was over two decades ago.
- He said his office will present a counter-insurgency narrative to undermine Boko Haram’s credibility and narrative by presenting “the true face of Islam” – counter to the message being presented by Boko Haram.
- The Nigerian government is open to negotiated solution to the Boko Haram insurgency, should Boko Haram be willing to dialogue.
- On allegations of sabotage in the army: Dasuki said the army has “a few cowards”.
- Boko Haram financing: he said Boko Haram obtains financing from bank and market robberies, kidnapping and ransom, and get fuel by staging fuel heists.
- The Baga attack: Chad and Niger troops withdrew from the military base in Baga, leaving only Nigerian troops there. Dasuki said the way the base was overrun was “not something anyone would be proud of”.
- Chibok girls: Dasuki thinks they have been dispersed, “some of them have been sold out…that is all we know”. United States officers are still conducting surveillance 24 hours a day. Nigeria has aerial surveillance footage, but he is “very hopeful but not very optimistic”.
- On the botched ceasefire announcement with Boko Haram: Chad’s President Idriss Deby received two letters purportedly sent to him by Boko Haram leaders who wanted to negotiate a ceasefire. Chad acted as an intermediary between Nigeria and Boko Haram. Dasuki stated his belief that there are “links” between the Chad government and Boko Haram’s leadership.
- Equipment of Nigerian Soldiers: Dasuki denied allegations that Nigerian soldiers are poorly armed/equipped. He reeled off a list of military equipment that Boko Haram captured from the Nigerian army in Baga, including: 6 armoured personnel carriers (each with at least 4000 rounds of ammunition each), and 4 artillery guns. He said lack of equipment is not the issue, but that there are “a lot cowards” among soldiers and that some of them “do not want to fight”.
- More than 70-80% of Boko Haram members are of Kanuri ethnicity.
Text of the NSA’s speech: Full text and video of Dasuki’s speech at Chatham House in London – DailyPost Nigeria
The Nigerian military has struggled to have any effect in the face of Boko Haram’s intensifying attacks. But with the right combination of military and non-military, short- and long-term strategies, the militants can be stopped, as Max Siollun explains.
Some of the Chibok schoolgirls who escaped from Boko Haram captivity have (through the assistance of Christian missionaries and scholarships) been allowed to travel to America to resume their education.