It is apparent that Boko Haram has recovered from its reverses and seized the initiative to launch a new offensive. It is still unclear as to what their overall objective is however we can see that once more they have displayed a similar pattern to the immediately previous Ramadan Offensive .
It is unclear if this offensive was meant to be a distinct campaign or just another phase of the original Ramadan Offensive however it is the opinion of this commentator that the first phase of the campaign has been completed and the second is underway and nearing completion
1. Preparation of the Battlespace:
There appear to have been 5 key preparatory actions.
Finance: Boko Haram normal fund raising through illegal taxation and theft was very generously supplemented by £387,000 (N103m) from the Chinese and Camerounian governments. It is hard to quantify the amount generated by internally generated criminality but it is but one can consider that the proceeds seems to maintain daily expenses, while the ransoms appear to support large capital expenses
Logistics: Poorly disciplined and poorly led Nigerian and Camerounian forces have in the course of this conflict abandoned intact large amounts of equipment, ammunition and weaponry including armoured vehicles, utility vehicles, generators, clothing, boots, fuel, food, medicines and other supplies. This extremely poor practice has given Boko Haram more weaponry than they could conceivably buy or transport across the Sahel. All of which is supplemented by Boko Harams own logistics efforts through the Sahelian smuggling routes.
Manpower: Recruitment through proselytizing, forced conscription and mercenaries appears to have replenished the ranks of Boko Haram that were diminished by the fighting and then the failed battles of Konduga and Fotokol. More crucial than the replenished cannon fodder has been the release of key commanders and logisticians by the Camerounians and the large number of experienced junior commanders and experienced mercenary commanders and weapons specialists, attracted to the large booty Boko Haram seems to inevitably collect as well as their run of victories.
Defence: despite the failure of the Ramadan Offensive to capture, raid or cut off Maiduguri, Boko Haram has successfully defended its captured areas not just from recapture but from any serious penetration or harassment. By defining this defended space, they have been able to secure their lines of communications, embed themselves into the local population, resupply and familiarise themselves with the local terrain.
Ceasefire: it is unclear whether the ceasefire negotiation was a genuine attempt to negotiate by a faction of Boko Haram or a ruse to deceive the Federal Government or an elaborate confidence trick or a deliberate false flag operation by a foreign power. It is indisputable that its outcome was an overwhelming physical and moral success for Boko Haram. The morale of Nigerian forces buoyed by recent victories interrupted by the ceasefire seemed to go from scepticism to despondency and hopelessness as an entire Brigade abandoning a town with barely a fight is indicative of not just poor leadership but poor morale. The resultant video denying the ceasefire and stating the GGSS Chibok abductees had been married off was not just a public humiliation for the Government but a deeply depressing outcome for the public. Physically the unilateral ceasefire prevented Nigerian forces from performing any offensive air or ground operations, thus allowing Boko Haram the space to prepare and assemble for their offensive.
2. Shaping the Battlespace
It is the opinion of this commentator that we are currently in the ‘Shape’ phase of the enemy campaign.
The past 4 weeks have been characterised by several key incidents
Urban terrorism: there have been IED attacks in Gombe and Yobe. This indicates that a cell has been activated in these areas that has made good use of the safe areas defined in the previous Ramadan offensive. These attacks have limited operational utility beyond terror but absorb huge resources from the security and police forces to reduce freedom of movement and track down the cells responsible, thus reducing the combat power available in the area of operations.
Propaganda: there have been several videos in fairly quick succession which have had consistent themes, the first being to demonstrate that ‘Shekau’ is alive and to discount any notion of surrender or negotiation and to mock and threaten any peace process. There have been several interesting trends in recent videos such as the presence of another Amir who spoke for several minutes before murdering a captured Nigerian airman and in the latest a greeting to ISIS leader al Baghdadi and. combined with the deliberate targeting of Shia, it would appear that Boko Haram has either achieved some form of understanding with ISIS or wishes to give that impression. Much like with the ceasefire in which it was more important to hear Boko Harams affirmation, it will be interesting to hear ISIS’s response to the greeting and what that means in terms of support.
Raids: there have been a large number of raids on towns and villages which seek to gather recruits and supplies and wear down the security forces in places such as Ashaka, Nafada in Yobe, Gombe, Bauchi and Borno State. In fact some accounts suggests that the capture of Mubi was actually a raid that achieved success that was far out of proportion to its capability
Deliberate Attacks: there have been sustained deliberate attacks to the north and south of the area of operations
To the North, sustained motorised battalion sized attack on Abadam and Malam Fatori by the Nigerien border have achieved success. While to the south, the attack and capture of Mubi sets the stage for a series of attacks further south towards Yola and the Border, securing towns that control access to the Mandara Mountains such as Maiha.
The enemy has successfully completed its preparations for this offensive and is currently shaping the battlespace for its main effort.
The raids and urban terror attacks fit the previous pattern of distracting and disrupting friendly forces and forcing them to disperse forces to defend far flung locations. This shapes the battle space by preventing friendly forces from concentrating for counter attacks and overwhelms friendly resources by crating panic and IDPs as well as depressing civilian and military morale with an impression of an invincible enemy who can strike anywhere at will.
The initial assessment is that this phase is seeking to define an ungoverned space along the Nigerien border just like there is along the Camerounian border. With the Chadians becoming more proactive it is possible the enemy wish to develop new lines of communications to the west of Lake Chad. The actions in Abadam and Malam Fatori protects the enemy’s northern flank and secures their smuggling routes in the vicinity of Lake Chad, it also seeks to isolate Baga, making it difficult if not untenable as a base of operations for the new MNJTF. Enemy actions to the south once again consolidate their hold on the Mandara Montains and the border region making it harder to launch and sustain a counter offensive.
The enemy might seek to threaten key cities again but as before it is unlikely they have the capability to physically take or hold cities the size of Yola, Damaturu or Maiduguri but by threatening them, they force friendly forces to concentrate their strength in and around these major population centres, leaving the rural areas and lines of communication vulnerable.
Boko Haram does not need to waste its strength attacking cities when it can fight on ground favourable to it instead.
There is still time for the Federal Government to bring extra battalions from beyond the AO and begin a counter offensive, either to the north around Lake Chad or south around Mubi. Passively waiting for Boko Haram to move to the next phase of their campaign is a definite path to defeat.