|Date||Situation Friendly Forces||Situation Enemy Forces|
|15 April||The National Assembly, THREE ARMS ZONE, ABUJA spontaneously evacuated around between 11.00am and 2.30pm after rumours of an explosive device planted there||
|17 April||President Goodluck JONATHAN summoned a meeting of the National Security Council in The Presidential Villa, ASO ROCK, ABUJA, with the Vice President Namadi SAMBO, Minister of Defence Lt Gen Aliyu GUSAU, National Security Advisor Col Sambo DASUKI, Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshall Alex BADEH, the Service Chiefs, Inspector General of Police, Director general of the State Security Services and Director General of the National Intelligence Agency||
|19 April||The Principal of GGSS CHIBOK states she has registered 32 students who have escaped, giving a total of 48 students accounted for.||
Table 4 Insurgent incidents
|Insurgent Incidents||IED||Vehicle IED||Suicide IED||Small Arms||Small arms+IED||Other wpns||Theft||Kidnapping|
Of bombs…: the VBIED that was detonated in Nyanya Motor Park was long in the coming and marks a good example of the dictum that the enemy needs to be lucky once and friendly forces need to be lucky all the time.
There are several instructive things about the attack.
Location: Nyanya is not in Abuja, it is a satellite town. The target itself was not a hardened government or military installation but an extremely soft target. That is rather difficult to secure, although to be honest it is not hard to completely redesign all Motor Parks to prevent VBIEDs gaining access. In other words despite the words and bluster, the enemy has still not yet managed to circumvent Abuja’s security apparatus. The other thing that is interesting about Nyanya is that it is close to both Southern Kaduna and Nasarawa States, areas that have seen an upsurge in armed activities
Messaging: the claim of responsibility for this attack was almost instantaneous. One could even surmise that the video might have been made prior to the attack and then quickly mixed in with footage from the attack for release. However what is clear is that again Boko Haram’s messaging and media ops outperforms that of the authorities. In the week in which several Nigerian companies floated on the London Stock Exchange and Nigeria became the largest economy in Africa, the prevailing headline was ‘Car bomb in Nigerian Capital’. I doubt this was Boko Haram’s intent but it is an unfortunate coincidence, however the speed of the response corresponds with the theory that Boko Haram’s spectacular bomb attacks are essentially fund raising or PR campaigns.
The use of Arabic possibly indicates that the target audience is in North Africa and the Middle East. There is still nothing in this video that can be interpreted as a negotiating position so one must conclude from the speed of the video release, the use of Arabic and the lack of an opening that Boko Haram is still planning and resourcing for a long campaign.
The conclusion from this is that as much as force protection measures against obvious targets such as schools, motor parks etc are needed, a clever media counter offensive is required.
… and boarders: somebody, somewhere thought it would be a very good idea to reopen a girls boarding school on the fringes of Sambisa Forest.
Inevitably it didn’t end well for the students, an indeterminate number have been abducted (apparently almost a week after the attack no one can produce an accurate list of abductees) and by making a fairly catastrophic statement without carrying out the most basic verifications, the Military authorities have completely undermined their credibility.
However there are several factors that favour the security forces
- The enemy has ensconced themselves in Sambisa Forest Reserve. Despite the fact that it is vast, inhospitable terrain , it gives the security forces a finite area to target
- Unconfirmed reports from returning searchers indicate they have been warned that the insurgents would kill them if they came closer, this demonstrates that not only is there a neutral civilian presence in the forests that can be exploited for information but also further narrows down the area in which the insurgents operate.
- The enemy is mainly road bound, mounted in trucks, thus they will be based somewhere off the numerous tracks that snake through the forest.
- Rainy season has started, thus the roads will be muddy, rivers will begin flowing restricting the enemies’ mobility.
- The enemy has to transport, feed and guard alot of scared young girls. This reduces their mobility, resources, manpower and space.
There are also several factors which do not favour the security forces
- Hunters, parents and vigilantes have entered the forest to carry out a search. This would indicate that the forest has not been sealed off by the security forces and entry and exit is still possible by foot, motorcycle and vehicle.
- There has been no communication that we know of from the hostage takers. What their terms will be is unclear but if a ransom or terms are demanded and complied with, it will encourage further attacks.
- The insurgents have a very strong hand. They could break up into a series of small groups and spread out increasing the number of assaults that must be carried out simultaneously for a successful rescue or they could concentrate in a reinforced camp with the girls as human shields and resist any attempted attack. They have good local knowledge and are familiar with the terrain. They have a very emotive set of hostages for which most people will be willing to negotiate.
- They have mobility provided by their vehicles, motorcycles and feet, with good cover from view provided by the forest.
Hostage rescue is notoriously difficult for even the most sophisticated and experienced armed forces. A mass hostage rescue is even more dangerous.
Rescuing small numbers of hostages by special forces in relatively discrete, controlled environments has a patchy success rate.
Rescuing large numbers of hostages such as in the Westgate Mall, Nairobi or in Beslan, the Moscow Theatre or the Budyonnovsk Hospital in Russia were all extremely costly in terms of hostages lives. Even the Moscow Theatre Siege which in reality was a well planned and well executed operation resulted in the deaths of 130 hostages after the operation ended.
The most successful mass hostage rescue of recent times in comparable settings is Op. Barrass, the operation that freed a captured British patrol from the West Side Boys gunmen in a swampy Sierra Leonean jungle, that resulted in freeing 5 British soldiers, 1 Sierra Leonean soldier and 21 Sierra Leonean civilians for the cost of 1 hostage and 1 British soldier killed and 18 wounded.
However the level of complexity and specific skill sets that made this operation possible from Signals intelligence, specialist recce troops, specialist assault troops, hostage negotiators, specialist lift and attack helicopters and pilots, advanced signals and surveillance resources etc and just as importantly the planning and logistics capability to bring all these moving parts together are not easily available.
These are not skills that are developed overnight and most definitely should not be deployed ad hoc as the US experience with attempt to rescue the US hostages in Iran in 1979 shows.
There are very few military scenarios one can think of in such terrain with such a large number of hostages and such nihilistic and ruthless that can have a high probability of success. It is in the best interest of all sides to negotiate a release of the hostages.