In the UK during the latter years of operations in Afghanistan there was a doctrine known as Op Entirety, in which all uncommitted elements of the Army were devoted to supporting operations in Afghanistan. Troops going through basic training used Afghanistan as a template, equipment, roles and unit organisations were tweaked to be Afghan-centric.
While this has produced an entire generation of officers and soldiers who think that the only way to patrol or approach an objective is in a safely marked lane behind Vallon (mine/ metal detectors), it had the effect of getting all of the UK’s scarce military resources devoted to that task, other Services that would not usually be involved in a landlocked campaign such as the Navy provided medics and helicopters and pilots for a Joint Helicopter Force etc.
This is not a new concept; the Portuguese during the wars of Liberation in their colonies did the same thing with rather interesting results. This poor under populated and underdeveloped Southern European country, managed to successfully contain insurgencies thousands of miles away in huge, underdeveloped colonies with alien populations by intelligent planning, learning from others experience, realistic localised training, devoting its entire military effort to the task and efficient tactics and logistics. The operational successes they achieved are comparable only to British counter insurgency efforts of the same period.
In Northeast Nigeria a series of clearly defined tasks must be set; such as protecting the population, denying the enemy freedom of movement and sustenance and freedom to assemble both within Nigeria and a certain distance (say 100km) from our borders, to kill, deter or capture all active insurgents and ensure that the conditions for an insurgency are removed cannot arise again.
In order to achieve these tasks troops must be embedded within the population, the ratio of counter insurgent per member of population and per square kilometre of territory must be massively increased. This extremely manpower intensive exercise can only be achieved by pooling manpower from across the armed forces and focussing them on this single task, in other words Op Entirety.
So what would Nigeria’s Op Entirety look like?
Preparation: A Division should be given the task of clearing a particular area (i.e. Borno State) as per the above objectives, conduct the necessary recce and planning, identify the number of troops needed and begin training. Irrespective of whether this is an armoured or mechanised division, the entire division must be re organised and retrained as light infantry. Troops from the Navy and Air force can be added as composite companies or battalions and go through the same training package.
Operations: The Divisional area of operations should be broken down into Brigade, Battalion and Company Areas of Operations. The smallest bases will be platoon sized bases, checkpoints or outposts.
Each Platoon Outpost should be fortified with clear fields of fire and enough ammunition, water, fuel, batteries and medical supplies to hold out for 48 hours. Each one will be equipped with a 60mm mortar, machine guns, radio, mobile phone and satphone.
Platoon outposts and check points should be able of defending themselves and defending their area of operations against a platoon sized force. Company
Each Company Area of Operations should have a main Company FOB, containing mortars, stores, ammo, fuel etc. The Company should be capable of conducting limited local clearance ops with every one of its outpost in mortar range, with at least 1 platoon kept in reserve at the Company FOB which should be capable of reinforcing outposts in at least 2 hours and.
Battalions should retain a company as reserve and be capable of reinforcing outposts with a platoon in 4 hours, a company in 8 hours and conducting clearance ops in their AO, they should also have attached artillery, with a mechanised or armoured troop attached.
The Division should be able to conduct battalion sized strike ops within its AO and beyond into neighbouring countries, with at least a battalion in reserve and another for strike ops. Air assets such as helicopters, UAV should be attached the Div HQ.
Thus it can be seen that the division will be controlling larger formations than usual.
Equipment: it can be seen that platoons will need to be well armed, the enemies use of AA weapons in the direct fire role can be neutralised with mortars, thus each platoon should have at least two 60mm mortars. The enemies use of RPGs can be neutralised with friendly RPGs and sharpshooters, i.e. riflemen with more accurate rifles such as the 7.62mm FN FAL or Dragunov, with advanced optics who can be used to eliminate personalities such as commanders, RPG gunners, AA gunners, drivers etc when the enemy attacks. The enemies use of men in riding in pickups and motorcycles, present fast moving targets, thus localised area weapons are needed such as mortars, machine guns and grenade launchers, thus each platoon location should have automatic grenade launchers like the GMG or AGS 17 as well as at least one 12.7mm and four 7.62mm machine guns. The enemy when closing up uses hand held IEDs as grenades, thus troops should have at least 2 grenades per man. The enemy prefers to attack to attack at night so as to negate air power and reinforcements. The enemies’ confidence at night can be neutralised with the use of night vision devices but more importantly flares. These can be handheld and mortar/ artillery delivered. Artillery based at Company, Battalion or Brigade FOBs should fire off illumination shells over their AO at irregular periods. Each sub unit should have sufficient vehicles to transport itself, evacuate casualties and traverse terrain. Radios are paramount, as a fall back each sub unit should have satellite phones as well as mobile phones.
Force Protection: the enemy has utilised surprise and concentration of forces to defeat the security forces when encountered. In other situations they have exploited freedom of movement to avoid the security forces and attack isolated villages. To defend outposts the first thing is to prevent the enemy approaching in vehicles, thus all roads capable of supporting vehicles should be blocked at night with large objects such as tree trunks. These should be linked to trip flares, thus if they are moved the enemy will be illuminated.
It goes without saying that all these points will be pre registered mortar and artillery targets. Smaller tracks again should be barricaded off with tree trunks and trip flares. These obstacles by themselves will not stop a determined enemy but it reduces their options, slows them down and channels them into pre determined killing areas, thus rather than having truckloads of men driving straight into town they will either have to attack on foot through the bush or stop and clear the obstacles. The outposts themselves can be reinforced mud compounds with interlocking fire positions and bunkers. Any piece of high ground should be used, with trees and bush around it cut to at least 300 to 400m.
To further prevent the enemies’ freedom of movement active patrolling with at least one combat element out on patrol at all times, these patrols will have communications with the main outpost and can thus warn or call in fire if they encounter the enemy, where feasible, villages should be surrounded with mud walls or fences. Villagers must be trained in a defence plan, with clear instructions what to do in case of attack. These villagers can act as force multipliers, with young men used to keep watch on obscure tracks etc. Selected few can be trained in first aid so as to treat the injured.
It will be virtually impossible to watch every stretch of road, but with a good ground appreciation, points that the enemy must use to either exit or cross a road, river etc can be identified and garrisoned.
Organisation: the smallest combat unit to be deployed should be platoon of 40 men, for example you have 8 men on guard in the outpost, 8 on patrol, 8 as reserve, 8 at rest and 8 as an uncommitted element either at rest or on other tasks. Likewise a company could consist of at least 4 platoons with 2 at the Company FOB location (one platoon as Area Reserve and another on FOB protection tasks, such as guarding and patrols). A company can then control 2-4 other platoons in outposts. No outposts should be greater than 8-10km from the main post. If an outpost is attacked it can be supported by a neighbouring one with men or fire support or a platoon dispatched from the Company main FOB.
These reinforced platoons can be built up by ensuring the division diverts all soldiers, male, female, combatant or non combatant to its new role. Everyone can be trained in the use of infantry weapons; female soldiers and those overage or unfit can be used for guarding or retrained as medics and drivers, thus freeing more fit soldiers for combat duties.
Infrastructure: in order to ensure troops can be reinforced and resupplied, casualties can be evacuated and IEDs can’t be planted, roads need to be well tarred and maintained. Thus for a Nigerian Op Entirety roads are a strategic asset. Road building crews will be a target so must also be protected, existing roads should be brought up to scratch, new ones graded and levelled and then tarred.
Water is a strategic asset. If each village has a clean water supply then it reduces the need for water tankers to be escorted around the battlespace each week or so to resupply troops. If villages have a potable water supply in them then it reduces the need for people to head to streams to fetch water.
Healthcare is a strategic asset. By providing primary health with troops, it relieves pressure on existing health infrastructure, reduces the need for people to travel long distances for healthcare and thus their vulnerability to ambushes.
Maps. A General once said radios and a map make a commander. Maps, mapping and geo data are invaluable in this conflict. Map making equipment is not as expensive as portrayed, and accurate maps aid planning, logistics and situational awareness in a way that can’t be estimated, combining mapping with satellite imagery, demographic data and eyes on the ground is invaluable. Maps are a strategic asset
Conclusion: This piece was written in a bit of haste (and possibly frustration) but hopefully the central message comes across that for each problem Boko Haram presents there is a solution, however the recurring decimal in each of these solution is planning and manpower. Well trained, properly organised, well equipped manpower. This is an infantry war and can be won on the ground, Attack helicopters and ground attack aircraft are battle winning assets but they are not the answer to all problems and are of limited availability, virtually every engagement can be decided by infantry weapons, mortars, RPGs, medium to heavy machine guns which are all organic to a well equipped infantry unit.
The question of insufficient troops to task is one every commander has to deal with and it is thus the responsibility of the political leadership to identify solutions to this problem.