Operations have developed sufficiently for us to attempt to review its progress of Op Zaman Lafiya and Op Logone 2015.
Please note that this is produced using only open source information, it is at best a rough guestimation and seeks to try and understand events rather than a definitive recounting of events. No operationally sensitive information is used.
The counter offensive appears to have begun in the latter 2 weeks of January, with 7 Div under new GOC Maj Gen Adeosun.
As covered before, the zones of enemy operation have been identified as;
North (Lake Chad Zone): the border areas of Chad and Niger Republics with Makari in Cameroun as the eastern boundary and the Borno/ Yobe border as the western boundary linked by the Niger Republic border and the southern shore of Lake Chad.
South East (Mandara Zone): Gombi, Song, Mubi North and Mubi South, Hong LGA of Adamawa State and Maiha LGAs and Mayo Sava and Mayo Tsanaga Department, Cameroun
Centre (Southern Yobe): consists of parts of Gujba, Gulani, Damaturu, Fika, Fune, Geidam LGA’s
West (Bauchi and Gombe Zone): consists of the Balmo Forest of Bauchi State and Gongola River basin.
Operations began in the Mandara Zone, to the south east of the AO with 28 Brigade (Brig Gen Victor O. Ezugu) liberating Michika at the end of January and clearing the surrounding towns and villages in Hong, Song, Mubi North and Mubi South LGA’s thus capturing gateway towns to the western Mandara Mountains.
The enemy counter attacked almost immediately, using the tried and tested tactic of isolating the garrison by attacking to its flanks and rear and then following up with frontal human wave attacks to cause attrition and deplete ammunition. The town was held by elements of 213 and 243 Battalion supported by the NAF, 331 Field Artillery Regiment and Nigerian Special Forces, who defeated the enemy inflicting heavy casualties.
Despite the defeat of 5 Brigade in Monguno and Baga to the north, the operations in the SE continued, with Nigerian troops penetrating the Mandara Mountains to a certain depth.
This action cut off Boko Haram forces in the Mandaras from the foothills and approaches to the Adamawa lowlands, provoking a violent reaction with a major enemy attack on Maiduguri using armour, artillery, mortars, crew served weapons as well as the usual waves of gunmen. There were also aggressive attacks to kill, loot, steal cattle and kidnap in the vicinity of Ashigashiya and Waza in Cameroun (which will become more significant as we go on).
Chadian forces began their operations a few days later, initially massing in Fotokol, distracting the enemy opposite in Gamboru Ngala. Whilst this was going on they moved a mechanised battlegroup (with armour, artillery and mounted infantry) through Niger Republic to Bosso, Mamori and Diffa from where they attacked Malam Fatori and Abadam supported by Mi 24s. These attacks appeared to achieve surprise and the enemy was defeated and pushed out of the main population centres in Abadam LGA.
The enemy reaction was swift, launching waves of punishing counter attacks with indirect fire, mounted and dismounted fighters and suicide IEDs some of which went quite deep into Niger to attack Chadian and Nigerien assembly areas and key infrastructure along the lines of communication such as the Doutchi Bridge in Diffa. A concerted use of IEDs against not just military but civilian targets underscored how seriously Boko Haram viewed these losses and also how developed their networks and infrastructure in Diffa Prefecture are.
The next move by the Chadians into Gamboru Ngala following days of bombardment by MRL artillery, SU 25s and Mi 24s successfully pushed the enemy out of the town but evoked an even more bitter response. Using the ruse of pretending to be a column of Chadians (not hard as alot of the Boko Haram in this sector are Chadians) returning from Gamboru they overran Camerounian positions, capturing the El Beid Bridge (after months of trying) neatly cutting off the Chadians in Gamboru Ngala and laying waste to Fotokol.
The senseless slaughter aside, the enemy counter attacks were operationally sound as they forced the Chadians to slow their rate of advance in order to call up reinforcements to guard their lines of communications, whilst the Camerounians and Nigeriens were forced to retask their forces to conduct a series of manpower and time intensive cordon and search operations to secure their rear areas.
Nigerian forces began neutralising enemy forces in Balmo Forest, Bauchi State with a series of clearance operations, whilst Special Forces and ISR directed air strikes began against enemy positions in Sambisa Forest.
Enemy counter attacks included a plethora of Person Borne Suicide IEDs mainly to the west (Gombe, Biu, Potiskum and Damaturu) and north of the AO (Diffa), as well as raids in Damboa and Yobe State, and around Koza, Mora, Kolofata and other areas opposite the Mandara Mountains.
The enemy also generated significant forces at the periphery of the Lake Chad Zone, to the North and West of the AO to first attack Gamboru Ngala and then Gombe City.
The Chadians apparently had warning of the attack on Gamboru Ngala (exploiting the Chadian connection) and prepared an ambush for the enemy, however the enemy used their superior local knowledge to close with the Chadians using tunnels and other hidden approaches, this was not enough and their main force consisting of APCs and weapons mounted vehicles were defeated with support from the ubiquitous Mi24s and stragglers scattered, with several cut off fighters being found for several days afterwards.
The attack on Gombe was more successful with the enemy seizing Dadin Kowa and its vital bridge, (using the opportunity to propagandise and loot). They pushed into Gombe itself until they were defeated by air strikes and ground troops, their withdrawal turned into a rout with air power being used to destroy significant enemy materiel.
The enemy also attacked beyond Nigeria and Cameroun (although Mayo Tsanaga and Mayo Sava Departments in Extreme Nord Region continued to be raided), with PBSIEDs in Niger as well as major attacks with crew served weapons, mounted fighters and mortars against N’guigmi (anther Chadian assembly area) in Niger and a waterborne attack against Ngouboua in Chad
Enemy forces in Sambisa Forest attacked Damboa, either in an attempt to break out or to simply exact revenge for the air strikes; they were defeated by 195 Bn with artillery support
Nigerian forces began ground operations in Sambisa Forest a few days later, whilst the enemy raided Mafa and Gajigana focussed on stealing food and livestock.
5 Brigade (Brig Gen Udoh) with air and artillery support, advanced north west towards Monguno attacking on two flanks with one element cutting Monguno off from Dikwa by attacking and capturing Marte and another element attacking from the south east clearing Gaijganna, Zundur, Damakar and capturing Monguno retaking the town after a 2 day battle, capturing a large number of APCS, vehicles, food, ammunition and other stores.
Dikwa at this point was cut off with Nigerian forces to the North, south and west and Chadians to the North east. The east towards Cameroun was the only relatively clear point however this required crossing the Yedzaram River and then running into Camerounian units on the border.
With the enemy in Dikwa isolated, the Chadians took advantage of the NA’s victory to launch an attack the next day. The Chadian attack benefited not just from the preceding Nigerian operation but an intense intelligence preparation using ISR platforms to identify enemy positions for supporting fires from air and artillery (and also by allegedly exploiting the Chadian connection to convince enemy Commanders to defect or else provide information). It is not clear how true the latter allegation is or if it is part of an integrated psychological operation (psyops) as we will touch on later.
Nigerian forces increased the pressure on the enemy in Baga by cutting the road to Baga with an amphibious operation to the north of Monguno
At this point it can be seen that the Nigerian action to the west, Chadians moving to Dikwa and Camerounians blocking to the east had isolated enemy forces in Gwoza. This generated a reaction with a series of attacks around Koza, Kolofata and Waza in Cameroun to steal livestock, abduct people and steal food and fuel.
Enemy forces also began attacking towards Askira, Chibok and Damboa, which the NAF appears to have appreciated as they began aggressive air strikes against Gwoza.
The enemy appeared unable to generate major forces in the Nigerian half of the Mandara Zone raiding villages in Hong LGA, mounted on motorcycles, whilst Nigerian ground forces pushed into Sambisa Forest and towards Gwoza.
Local residents reported that helicopters were dropping leaflets (in Arabic, Hausa and English) that appeared to have been written by Boko Haram members who had realised the error of their ways. The leaflets were written in Nigerien and Chadian Hausa and Arabic.
Baga at this point was completely isolated with the Chadians to the North in Malam Fatori and Abadam as well as to the east on the other side of Lake Chad and Nigerian forces to the South and West.
Trapped with their backs to the Lake, they attempted to defend the town using hundreds
of IEDs however Nigerian forces cleared the obstacles and 5 Bde secured the town and the surrounding area with heavy losses to the enemy in men and materiel.
The enemies responded with more PBSIEDs in Biu, Potiskum, Jos and Kano.
Analysis and Next Steps
Warfare is subject to many variables from training, luck, manpower, finance etc however two immutable constants from the times of Thermopylae to date are Time and Geography.
Manmade events (such as political events, troop rotations etc) and natural events (such as seasons, day/ night, harvests etc) influence all armies. For example the Invasion of Iraq was launched in March 2003 despite the scope for further negotiations because the Iraqi summer would have been too hot for soldiers in armoured vehicles and CBRN kits to function.
Nigeria and Boko Haram are bound by two time limits, first the onset of the rainy season, when rivers begin to flood and forests become swamps, reducing mobility for the enemy and friendly forces. However friendly forces with better vehicles, the ability to maintain them and also air power are at a distinct advantage in terms of the rainy season, and the elections which present an opportunity to Boko Haram, as all of Nigeria’s combat power will be diverted to this effort.
Geography has dictated this conflict right from the beginning, with the sect setting up camp in the Mandara Mountains as far back as 2004. These steep, hills are ideal guerrilla country where the the native the Kirdi ironically defended themselves successfully from Usman Dan Fodio’s cavalry based jihad.
The Mandara Mountains, Lake Chad, Waza, Sambisa Forests etc and the roads and junctions leading to them, such as Bama, Damboa, Kouserri, Gwoza, Mubi etc constitute ground of tactical value, where a well disposed force can neutralise the advantages of an unprepared adversary. Lake Chad also constitutes an area of economic value as a legal and illegal trade hub for 4 different countries.
Even the attacks west into Gombe have followed the Benue River and Gongola River Basins, and the forests that they water.
This is why the two main enemy Key Terrains have been Lake Chad and the Mandara Mountains. The other zones essentially existed as defensive buffers to these territories. Friendly forces have correctly identified these areas and have aimed to isolate them in order to draw the enemy into actions where they can be destroyed by superior firepower before friendly forces attack.
Securing these zones separates Boko Haram from its supply lines, base areas and rest areas, reducing their freedom of movement across borders, as well as robbing them of lucrative sources of income by controlling the Lake Chad/ Sahel/ Central African smuggling routes. Also just as important it has starved them of food and fuel, due to their helpful habit of slaughtering everyone in areas they capture, there are precious few farmers left or even people who could travel back and forth to markets and they could take food from. Armoured vehicles are extremely fuel inefficient, particularly if poorly maintained, the enemies insistence on using these prestige weapons will have put immense pressure on their logistics. This pattern can be discerned from the level of activity in each zone:
North-Lake Chad Zone: capture of Abadam, Dikwa, Malam Fatori, Gamboru Ngala, Baga, Monguno and Marte
South East-Mandara Zone: capture of Gombi, Song, Mubi North and Mubi South, Hong and Maiha LGAs
Centre- Southern Yobe: Defence and counter IED tasks
West-Bauchi and Gombe Zone: Defence of Gombe clearance of Balmo Forest and counter IED tasks
Tactically the Nigerian operation seeks have several effects on the enemy: Isolate, Destroy, Clear, Hold, Secure
For example the attack to the north and east of the AO (isolate in order to Destroy and Clear) and preventing the enemy from creating a new significant front in the Centre and West by clearing Balmo forest (Clear and Secure) and repelling the attacks in Gombe (Hold). The enemy has tried to generate a reaction by repeated IED attacks in towns to the north and west of the AO (Secure) but so far have not managed to cause draw any forces away from the main effort.
The Nigerian offensive to the north cut off the enemy to the North of Maiduguri and effectively destroyed them or pushing them to the north and west into Yobe State or Niger Republic.
Thus plan the has succeeded, as can be deduced by the enemies’ reaction, with very few attacks southward to the north of Maiduguri except local attacks against advancing forces. The enemy however still attacks at will northward into Niger penetrating as far north as Chad.
They have also attacked eastward into Cameroun due to the pressure they are under, with their main force in Gwoza cut off and the main towns into the Mandara’s such as Mubi, Hong Madagali, etc in Nigerian hands, the enemy is actively using IEDs to try and deny security forces freedom of movement and raiding to steal livestock, fuel, food and hostages.
Majority of these attacks are in the eastern Mandara Zone, the gap between Gwoza and Waza National Park, as the enemy uses their dwindling freedom of movement to move between these two sanctuaries, and gather supplies for what will be a fairly emotional rainy season for them. To the west in Nigeria, the enemy main force mainly operates in the Chibok/ Askira corridor.
If this were a hammer and anvil operation, the Nigerians and Chadians act as the hammer whilst the Camerounians and Nigeriens function as the anvil.
Chadian forces key role has been to exploit their connections, skill, firepower and mobility to unnerve the enemy by cutting them off from their northern sanctuaries securing the Western shore of Lake Chad and closing the trap formed by Nigerian forces advancing north by destroying the enemy logistics centre at Dikwa.
Nigerien forces have mainly concentrated on securing the lines of communications of the Chadians operating from Bosso, Nguimi and Diffa as well as acting as a buffer, absorbing Boko Haram attacks.
Camerounian forces appear to be using this offensive as an opportunity to rest their forces and regenerate for the next phase, like the Nigeriens they have mostly remained within their borders, undertaking aggressive internal security operations and reacting robustly to incursions.
It appears their main effort is to reopen the N’djamena- Kouserri Road and remove the enemy threat to this vital lifeline to Chad as well as a potential jumping off point to attack the Chad-Cameroun Oil pipeline.
Non African Forces
The US and French have been assisting with ISR, logistics for the Chadians, whilst the British have been working with Nigeria on training particularly at the staff level.
In addition a psyops operation appears to be in effect most likely run by the French out of Maroua or N’Djamena with leaflets to try and pressurise Boko Haram members on the run as well as stories of commanders cooperating with Chadian forces. If the latter is true it indicates discipline is weakening and fracturing of Boko Haram, if false it helps casts doubt in the minds of Boko Haram about the loyalty of certain commanders and could lead to internal fighting.
In as much as the Chadian hyperactive publicity machine paints them as the saviours of the situation, it is clear from this that the main effort has been by the Nigerian air and ground forces.
The Nigerian Army, with new and more confident commanders, a large supply of
armoured vehicles but most importantly better planning and logistics have taken the fight to the enemy in the manner that we expected, even more pleasing is the way besieged units have reacted robustly to threats.
The enemy is still powerful but the extent of their defeats can be seen in their reactions, despite several large attacks, their main response has been PBSIED’s against civilian targets as well as a slew of propaganda videos. It is instructive that other than footage of the attack on Gombe most of the videos reused old footage, or simply had ‘Shekau’ consoling himself.
The enemy now has the problem that bedevilled Nigerian forces, numerous tasks to respond to with limited resources and combat power, it must be made clear however that they are not defeated and still have a vote in how the campaign pans out.
The operational imperative for Nigerian forces is to capture Gwoza and clear Sambisa Forest before the elections to complete the reduction of Boko Harams main concentrations in the North and East of the AO.
Boko Haram will expend time and resources in defending and counter attacking as it needs these safe areas close to the main population centres in order to disrupt the elections in Borno or else at the very least ensure that the headlines on election day are filled with Boko Haram atrocities.
The operational imperative for Boko Haram is to hold on until the elections and then attempt to defend a defined space in order to regain the initiative before the rainy season puts them on a permanent backfoot.
If they are defeated in the north and east of the AO before the elections, Boko Haram would be faced with an unenviable strategic choice; whether to use their reduced resources to make good on their promise to disrupt the election or accept the humiliation in order to use the breathing space to regenerate. Although IEDs are an easy weapon to deploy and manufacture the more active an IED network is the more likely it is to be detected. Once one or two bombers are taken alive the network begins to unravel. Thus other networks will need to step in to take the gap. Operating in areas they are not familiar with or far away from increase the risk of detection. Thus Boko Haram needs sanctuaries close to its target areas.
Thus the enemy will continue fighting and resisting but their main effort will be to push as many PBSIEDs out on election day, targeting voting queues, polling stations and other gatherings in order to make their point, while their main forces withdraw to areas where they can reorganise.
With Nigeria now more dangerous it is likely that their main forces will operate in the Waza corridor of Cameroun but more actively in Niger which economically and militarily is the weakest partner, the easiest to knock out of the fight and also the next best place to control the Sahel trade routes after Nigeria and Cameroun.
Nigeria has finally taken the initiative from the enemy and used the combat power freed up by the coordinated actions with Chad, Niger and Cameroun to take the offensive. Morale is high, an unscientific example comes from social media postings from soldiers, which were generally quite gloomy, however victory is infectious and soldiers post reflect their increased morale.
It must be made clear though that the enemy always has a vote and his response will be vicious and brutal thus it is imperative that troop levels and operational tempo be sustained in order to destroy them before the rainy season and then pursue and harass them until the dry season in order to prevent them from regenerating.
If the effort is sustained the main focus of the war will move to Niger’s Diffa and Zinder Prefectures and the axis from Sambisa through Gwoza to Waza and Kouserri. This are contains enemy sanctuaries, with deep historical, linguistic and cultural links to the natives.
This has been a well planned and executed operation thus far and for the first time since 2013 the initiative has passed to Nigerian forces.
With all due respect to the Nigeria Army this proves irrevocably that Victory does not belong to God alone, but to the to a well disciplined and balanced force, properly sustained, competently led operating to a logical plan to destroy the enemy cohesion through manoeuvre and firepower.
The victories of January and February belong squarely to the men and women of the Nigerian Armed Forces and their allies.