My Enemies Enemy

If enemy forces have a centre of gravity in Nigeria, it revolves somewhere around Gwoza. This town at the foot of the Northern Mandaras linking the Cameroun and Nigerian sides of the highlands, controlling access to north, east and west.

Thus the battle of Gwoza will be decisive not just for straight forward operational reasons that it is key terrain but for the fact that the enemy seems quite keen to make an issue of its ownership.

So why is Gwoza important?

Taking in to account Boko Harams ostensible strategic objective to overthrow the secular, elected government and replace it with their form of Sharia based government, they must either control a significant amount of Nigeria’s territory and population, threaten Nigeria’s economic well being or else create a situation where by they can seize the seat of government and impose their will on the country.

However a basic conventional assessment of Nigeria as a battlespace, shows there is virtually no way any force (without significant local support or a highly efficient logistics chains) much less a loose, unpopular, nihilistic, guerrilla alliance could successfully attack from one end of the country to another. Factors similar to those that defeated Usman Dan Fodio’s southward attack and Biafra’s 101 Division’s westward attack apply to Boko Haram. The tactics that worked in one terrain fail in another (as the Fulani cavalry discovered), columns of vehicles with crew served weapons might be decisive in the open Sahel, in the restricted rain forests of the South they are extremely vulnerable to ambush. Intricate knowledge of the cattle, trade and smuggling routes in the northeast and the significant local membership might help Boko Haram sustain itself in the Northeast/ Lake Chad zone, however the same does not pertain in the south (as Biafra who sustained themselves successfully with interior lines found with their Mid West offensive)

Although nothing is impossible it is highly improbable that Boko Haram can gather the necessary combat power and resources to create such a situation, sustain it and more importantly defend it from counter attacks.

Thus the only way for Boko Haram to achieve its aims would be to exploit a situation in which the Nigerian state is unable to defend most of its territory or the population. For example by attacking when the overwhelming majority of its combat power is committed to a task; such as securing an election.

This is the rationale that informed the urgency to defeat Boko Haram before this took place and when this become impossible, the election was postponed to allow the needed combat power to be applied and push Boko Haram away from lucrative smuggling routes, key terrain and population centres.

But the corollary of this is that even at its most powerful Boko Haram has largely contained in the North East. Nigeria is a huge country so even if the Nigerian security forces were fully deployed manning the elections, dealing with ethnic conflict in the Middle Belt, Niger Delta, unrest and political violence in the East or West, the best Boko Haram could have hoped for prior to the Valentine Offensive would be to capture Maiduguri, Yola or Damaturu. Holding them would have been another issue. A more likely scenario is Boko Haram counter attacking and retaking Baga, Mubi or Gamboru Ngala however the loss of these towns means little outside Borno, Adamawa or Yobe States.

This brings us to the paradox of this insurgency, beyond the fairly logical objective of securing Nigerian lives, territory and property there is limited strategic incentive to resolve this conflict.

The North East contains no manufacturing or extractive industry that provides significant Federal revenue. Its people are quite poor and do not have articulate international spokesmen such as Ken Saro Wiwa or Wole Soyinka. Although it is a major food producing region, most of its produce goes to Chad, Niger and Cameroun. Supplies to Nigerian markets can be made good from other sources. The effects of Boko Harams actions are felt much more keenly by Chadian citizens in N’Djamena than by Nigerian citizens in Lagos, Sokoto, Abuja or Port Harcourt.

As this commentator has mooted before, Boko Haram does not constitute an existential threat to Nigeria. It is a bigger danger to Cameroun with its limited resources and Chad with its dependence on supply lines through Cameroun and Niger Republic.

The North East is thus strategically insignificant to Nigeria, however to the Lake Chad states it is essential, in some ways existential.

Northern Cameroun depends on The North East for cheap fuel, smuggled goods and as a market for produce and livestock, likewise Nigeria is Chads biggest livestock market and Niger’s largest fish buyer.

We thus have the paradoxical situation that a resolution in the North East is more important to these nations than Nigeria.

What this means is that in Nigeria the greatest strategic imperative is to create the conditions whereby the elections can be held and more importantly won. For Chad and Cameroun the greatest imperative is for Boko Haram to be pushed back into Nigeria or Niger and clear the trade routes to and from Cameroun, Niger, Nigeria, Benin and Chad.

For Niger their greatest strategic imperative is to go back to the stalemate of before where Boko Haram focussed on Nigeria and Cameroun and left them alone.

The key question thus is how these strategic disconnects will survive or develop in the coming months. It can be seen from the fairly arrogant and bellicose announcements from Chad that the strategic objective of cementing their reputation as a regional military power is more important than an enduring regional cooperation. The fact that they have claimed the capture of Malam Fatori and Dikwa twice shows despite French and US assistance there are limits to their much vaunted military prowess and their ability to sustain operations for much longer is limited.

Cameroun entered the fight when it faced two crises on its borders, with Centrafrique’s implosion to the east and Boko Haram to the west, it correctly identified Boko Haram as the most dangerous threat and began military action, but only with the urging of France who fully committed in Centrafrique and the Sahel could not risk a threat to the southern flank of their Sahelian operational zone. Prior to this combination of threats and influences Cameroun just like Niger was happy to allow their unemployed youth to go on jihad and either die or get some money or loot out of the bargain.

The Nigerian election is in two weeks. Bama has fallen, as has Marraba Mubi, Mubi and Madagali. This isolates Gwoza in a neat arc from north via west to south. The Chadians have moved strong forces to Limani and Ashigashiya this blocking their escape to the rear.

Nigerian forces concentrate troops and logistics for the assault, while shaping the battlespace with limited ops around the area, clearing Sambisa Forest and goading the enemy to sally out and attack.

The enemy has quite helpfully moved significant forces into the town and are conducting their own shaping ops with raids in and around Gwoza and Sambisa Forest and a vicious round of suicide bomb attacks using men, women and children to try to distract and deplete Nigerian forces but their weakness is showing through the clear lack of offensive spirit beyond ambushes and small raids. When Boko Haram was in the ascendant it would have launched strong spoiling attacks to blunt the coming offensive, now it must content itself with a series of IED belts.

All things being equal Boko Harams main forces will be largely destroyed in Gwoza leaving smaller outlying gangs scattered around.

These forces could surrender, disperse, regroup or simply revert to roving banditry. In order to complete the destruction of these gangs and to roll up the IED networks, the number of troops deployed must not be reduced and in fact must increase.

Taking into account the strategic disconnect that exists between the Lake Chad countries, the onus once again will fall on Nigeria to hold and clear the area and also prevent Boko Haram from reconstituting in Chad, Cameroun or Niger.

Irrespective of who wins the Nigerian election it is imperative that troop numbers and operational tempo is not just maintained but increased.

We can only hope this reality is clearly understood and acted upon.


About peccavi

A Nigerian with interests in defence, security, geopolitics, the military particularly small unit tactics, COIN, stabilisation and asymmetric warfare
This entry was posted in Counter insurgency, Defence, Nigeria Strategy, West Africa Defence, West Africa Strategy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to My Enemies Enemy

  1. Kay says:

    Oga P, great analysis, but is there any news of who controls the outlier towns closer to Gwoza such as Pulka, Warabe to the north of Gwoza and Kasa to the south. I am using 3D mapping and can see just to the rear of the gwoza mountains are settlements of Ngoshe and Hyawa just few km to the Camerounian border. What risk do they spell militarily ?

    • peccavi says:

      The eastern approaches to Gwoza must be secured. Chadians have moved south, I presume into blocking positions.
      With the resources and firepower gathered Gwoza will fall, the question is whether the enemy will be trapped and thus killed and captured or if the approaches will be left unguarded and they will live to fight another day. You can see the enemy is pushing at the Chibok/ Askira axis and towards Mora in Cameroun. If I was the Nigerian commander, once Bama is secured I would push east to Ashigsahiya and then south cutting the passes into the Gwoza Hills. The enemy will be isolated and can be destroyed in detail

  2. Dongoyaro says:

    Excellent analysis!

  3. shehu says:

    Excellent analysis oga pcv. BBC hausa interviewed VP sambo yester mourning in which he confirmed fall of bama as also premium times and daily trust confirm, but yesternyt the capture of bama was denied by BBC hausa quoting some security sources saying bama still in BH’s controll.

  4. shehu says:

    @ PremiumTimesng
    Nigerian troops battle Boko Haram in
    this tells us that the western press is only interested in praising foreign MNJTF troops because many territories were liberated from BH by nigerian army but there weren’t even mentioned but the capture of Damasak was reported several times which obviously is now a big lie. Secondly the role of the PMC’S is also been overblown, is Nigeria the first country to use contractors in war (erroneously called mercenaries)?, why is ours different?.

    • peccavi says:

      I kind of struggle with the concept that the western press is out to ‘get’ Nigeria.
      We seldom tell our sotry ourseleves, even when we do the story is generally incoherent and doesn’t make sense.
      okk at Chads shakara.
      If you tool their propaganda at face value they have overrun haf of Nigeria. Yet by all accounts they were pushed out of Damasak, Malam Fatori and Dikwa, yet still they ‘have the best military in the region’ according to the press!!
      We have no one but ourselves to blame for how we are perceived, we refuse to tell our story properly, we refuse to define and reinforces a narrative so what do we expect others to do? They will go with the information at hand and that is coming from Chad and Cameroun.
      Nigeria is not the first country to use PMCs however for a country of our wealth, size, population it is extremely problematic.
      less important is the use of mercs, more how come we needed them in the first place

  5. sazulu says:

    Oga P, I agree with you totally. However we are forgetting something. The BH knows we are planning an attack on Gwoza for sure and by now can easily guess we will be coming from the North, East and Southern axis i.e from Bama, Damboa and Madagali general areas respectively. I believe by now they would have been withdrawing into the Gwoza mountains. Yes the Camerounians are on the other side but not on the mountains. This gives them cover and they can easily disperse into Mokolo in Cameroun since the Cameroonian blocking force is mainly blocking from Ashigashiya which is towards the east of Gwoza.
    Now my fear is this, we might attack Gwoza only to discover an abandoned town or just pockets of enemy with their main forces running into the mountains to hide and regroup. The US and Afghan forces took more than a year fighting rebels in the mountains of southern Afghanistan in 2003. We don’t want this war to linger on after the assault on Gwoza do we? Again, they may be facilitating the escape of Shekau and I believe this war cannot be over without the death or capture of Shekau (not that his death signals the end either). My point is, it will be a logistical and tactical nightmare to flush out the insurgents from the mountains.
    My suggestion is initially inserting troops to the east of Gwoza right at the beginning of the mountains before we carry out any attack. To do this, we have to first confirm my fears of a planned withdrawal of the insurgents. Our CH3 drones and ATRs can gather intel on this. Once the safe positions are determined at the foot of the mountains, troops can be inserted.
    Now for the main attack. I believe the main thrust of the attack should come from the east i.e from the inserted force. Like you mentioned, BH can not hold their own after a highly sustained fire fight. This attack should be preferably carried out at night, the efficacy of a day attack cannot be ruled out also. Blocking positions should then be established on the 3 axis already mentioned earlier. These positions would take out any fleeing enemy and with this, BH can be completely annihilated.
    BH will never expect us to attack from the east, this will bring about confusion in their camps and they will flee in disarray.
    If some elements of BH are deep within the mountains, and are trying to escape into Cameroun, the Camerounians can take care of them but i strongly suggest that they deploy down south too around Mokolo.

    • peccavi says:


      I agree with you and unfortunately I have to be the voice of doom.
      Pushing the enemy out of towns is all well and good but it leaves a huge countryside that will need a lot of troops, infantry and light mechanised forces to patrol and control.
      Unless there is an immediate follow on operation garrisoning these liberated areas and more importantly the countryside and roads, then we are simply buying a temporary breathing space of a few weeks if that.
      As we can see from the Chadians despite all their shakara they cannot hold territory. They were pushed out of Malam Fatori, Dikwa and almost Fotokol. The moment they left Gamboru BH started pushing back. How come they left with no one filling the gap.
      So yes I will concede that BH has suffered a major defeat but these are tactical and operational defeats, they have lost heavy weapons that would impede their mobility but they still retain their key weapon systems, technicals and motorcycles.
      I believe BH has correctly read this offensive and fought as hard as they could to mainly buy tie and suck forces into the battle for the TOWNS and VILLAGES, leaving the rural areas unpoliced. If not where are they launching counter attacks from? Where are the IEDs coming from Kaga LGA was being attacked from Yobe, we now need to see what happens there, will attacks reduce?
      The 2 other most important things are that the soldiers need to be rotated after 6 months or maximum 1 year. The problem Nigerian forces faced (to me) were the lack of relief, some units have been in theatre for 3 years. Followed by logistics, supporting the troops and extracting casualties and prisoners.
      Gwoza will be a big battle but unless they are pursued into the mountains and the soldiers stay there it is a waste of time.
      To my mind the best indicator of success in an insurgency is the number of enemy surrendering (not killed) and the amount of weapons or food caches destroyd or captured as this indicates that nt only is the enemies morale breaking but that information is flowing from prisoners and the civil population.
      The attack from the east to me is the only way to ensure that we pin BH forces and force them back against their own IED belts and into the waiting forces to the north, south and west.
      Will it happen? Unlikely. For some reason relations with Cameroun are very frosty. We see closer to Chad and Niger than Cameroun, yet those 2 nations have been yabbing us mercilessly and providing safe havens for BH.
      It is a very strange war

  6. rugged7 says:

    Nice analysis oga peccavi. Always look forward to ur work.

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