It is pertinent to weigh in on the discussion about mercenaries and the effect of foreign armies on the campaign.
Chad has painted themselves as the regional saviours coming to rescue the feckless Nigerians however using their own PR pronouncements we can see this is not entirely accurate;
|29 January||Chadians claim capture of Malam Fatori, Damasak and Abadam|
|29 January||Chadians claim capture of Gamboru Ngala|
|04 February||Boko Haram attacks Fotokol|
|06 February||Boko Haram attacks Bosso from Malam Fatori|
|11 February||Boko Haram attacks Gamboru Ngala|
|17 February||Chadians claim capture of Dikwa|
|02 March||Chadians claim capture of Dikwa|
|08 March||Chadians claim capture of Malam Fatori with Niger|
|12 March||Chadian Forces leave Gamboru Ngala|
|18 March||Chadians claim capture of Damasak|
|19 March||Boko Haram recaptures Gamboru Ngala|
As can be seen unless there are multiple Dikwa’s and Malam Fatori’s it would appear that the Chadians have trouble staying in one place
It is unclear whether the Chadians are being pushed out of these towns or are withdrawing of their own accord. It is my opinion that they are succesfully attacking and then withdrawing, which would mean that these attacks are not actually seize and hold operations but raids, to disrupt and dislodge the enemy.
Whilst these types of attacks have a clear military function as either spoiling attacks to disrupt enemy preparations or as attritional operations to degrade the enemies’ men and materiel, it is unclear why these events are misrepresented and why each ‘capture’ is followed by a press circus to explain how awesome the Chadians are compared to Nigerians.
The easiest explanation links back to this commentator’s belief that the main problems faced by Nigerian forces have not been weapons, firepower or a lack of fighting spirit but the fairly simple relationship between space, time, combat power and logistics.
Insurgent attacks have forced troops to garrison as much territory as possible stretching their supply lines and forcing commanders to deploy troops in small packets, with limited ability to defend themselves much less conduct aggressive patrols or offensives. Combined with poor administration of pay, feeding and troop rotations; troop morale plummeted, infecting even units which were nominally strong with fatalism and defeatism.
The logistics chain for any force operating over a vast difficult terrain with limited and war damaged infrastructure is taxing even for advanced, professional armies as the US/ UK operations in Afghanistan demonstrated but Chad falls way short of this category.
The Chadian force essentially consists of 2-3 mechanised battle groups, consisting of mounted infantry supported by APCs, AFVs and MBRL artillery.
Combat air support is provided by the NAF and Chads Ukrainian, Ethiopian and Sudanese mercenary piloted attack helicopters and aircraft.
Fuel is supplied by the Camerounians (about whom they have been equally rude). Intelligence and surveillance platforms by the French as well as ammunition, food, fuel and medical supplies.
Command and coordination has also been provided by the French in N’Djamena and Diffa.
Yet despite this support the Chadians have struggled to maintain a presence in Fotokol or Gamboru. To sustain their forces in Malam Fatori, Dikwa or Gamboru Ngaa they would have required troops to secure their lines of communication and a much more efficient logistic effort.
Without the ability to generate these troops they have kept themselves to the straightforward and militarily logical task of raiding the enemy in order to disrupt and degrade their forces.
However the reality of a small, capable force without the combat power to seize and hold its targets and totally dependent on others for its sustenance does not tally with Chad’s narrative of being a regional powerhouse capable of operating as equals with a first world power like France.
Chad’s strategy of aggressively intervening in external conflicts to either support allies or disrupt foes has served them well. It has converted its small military into the ally of choice for Western powers in the region and insulated itself from hostile rebel groups and powers through its alliance with France. The logical HQ for Op Barkhane would have been Gao or Agadez but N’Djamena won as a reward to Deby effectively providing him with a French bubble of protection.
Whilst distasteful and dishonest it is a fairly intelligent strategy for a poor, drought ridden landlocked country with a small population and nothing but cotton and difficult to export oil to its name. The World Bank cut of further funding for their oil industry after the Chadians diverted royalties from health, education and development as stipulated in the loan agreement to their military and several suspicious ‘no bids’ contracts. The shortfall was made up by their oil company partners.
All of which makes Nigeria’s insistence on treating Chad as the preferred partner extremely curious.
It was through Chadian efforts that Nigeria entered into the ridiculous ‘Danladi Ahmadu’ ceasefire with Boko Haram, Chadian agents have been detained smuggling weapons and the Chadian military efforts while useful in some ways has not been decisive. Cameroun on the other hand has suffered almost as much as Nigeria from Boko Haram, has fought a hard campaign, tying down Boko Haram units and interdicting their supply lines to Central Africa. More importantly their cooperation will be vital to root out the remnants of Boko Haram.
Article 47 of the Geneva Conventions defines a mercenary as any person who:
(a) is especially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict;
(b) does, in fact, take a direct part in the hostilities;
(c) is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party;
(d) is neither a national of a Party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict;
(e) is not a member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict; and
(f) has not been sent by a State which is not a Party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces.
As we will see whilst Chad makes extensive use of mercenaries, the foreigners in Nigeria can be better described as military contractors. I am not necessarily a fan of military contractors however there is a sound economic and operational logic to subcontracting certain elements of warfare to professionals. Whether it’s more cost effective or efficient is for others to say.
The first point is that military contractors are used by every single army and have been for centuries.
The US used military contractors in their War of Independence (as well as mercenaries) and had more contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan than it did troops, in fact in every conflict since the Balkans military contractors have made up at least 50% of deployed personnel.
These contractors are embedded within the militaries and provide services as varied as translation, intelligence , base and convoy security, feeding, laundry, accommodation, communications, recreational facilities, vehicle maintenance and aircraft maintenance etc.
As we can see the use of private military contractors is fairly widespread and non controversial, the controversy resides in whether they are engaged combat roles making them mercenaries?
The evidence would suggest not.
A single sensationalist story that has been repeated verbatim by many news organisations is that there are about 2-300 men based at Maiduguri Airport, operating at night attacking towns so Nigerian forces can roll in the next day.
This is ridiculous.
The presence of foreigners in Maiduguri Airport, has been used to support this allegation. There are two main logistics hubs for Op Zaman Lafiya, Maiduguri and Yola. Photographs of Europeans in body armour in South African origin MRAPs has been cited as evidence that these are mercenaries in a combat role. This makes little sense. They were clearly in civilian dress which would make little sense for mercenaries in a combat or even training role. Wearing body armour is now a requirement for everybody from journalists to aid workers in combat zones. These vehicles and several new aircraft were upgraded by South African/ Israeli companies thus it is logical that these personnel would be on ground for induction or maintenance.
It has been alleged that these foreigners are flying attack missions with their own or Nigerian aircraft. The only new aircraft in the Nigerian inventory are Gazelles and Pumas. Both of which were flown by Nigerian pilots when featured on the news (which is hard to fake). The new avionics, engines or equipment would require conversion training which Nigerian forces do not currently have the luxury of doing at leisure in the rear. Some transport aircraft appear to be leased from Georgia but they are the same models being flown by Nigerians.
The death of two South Africans Nangombe and Lotz in a friendly fire incident near Bama has been cited as evidence that mercenaries are being used in a combat role.
When you consider Leon Lotz was 59 years old and Nangombe who served with him in Koevet can be assumed to be roughly the same age, the silliness of all this becomes more apparent.
Even if they were a mix of the Terminator and Rambo, it would be fairly unusual to hire two 50 something year olds to undertake combat roles. Their relatives state they were on vehicle maintenance and servicing contracts which makes sense. The South African military industry has always utilised input from their forces to develop vehicles, resulting in quality pieces of kit such as the Ratel, Casspir, Buffel and G6. It makes sense that this tradition continues with aged veterans from this conflict working in slightly more cushy maintenance and support roles.
If they had been combat troops they would have had the correct radio frequencies and fallback recognition signals to have prevented the friendly fire incident. More likely they were transporting damaged or repaired vehicles back to their units and as they were escorted by echelon troops unable to communicate with the tank which opened fire on them. Another South African reportedly died of a heart attack in Maiduguri again supporting the theory that these are experienced vehicle support staff not young, fit combat troops
A more dramatic allegation based on this news report reproduced verbatim over and over again claims there is a unit of 2-300 Russians, Ukrainians, South Africans, British, Americans and others equipped with armoured vehicles and multiple rocket launchers as well as combat helicopters ‘doing the heavy lifting’ attacking towns at night for the Nigeria Army to roll up in the morning to take the glory.
Again fairly ridiculous
300 men is a small company group at best, taking into account the need for drivers, gunners, commanders, signallers etc it leaves very few men to actually carry out aggressive night attacks, capture towns and hold them until the Nigerian Army turns up.
Whilst Executive Outcomes in Sierra Leone did operate as a reinforced company they did not operate in a vacuum. Air support came from NAF Alphajets as well as merc piloted Mi 24s, they also had Nigerian and Guinean artillery and infantry support as well as their own dedicated supply chain flying in with a chartered jet.
In Sierra Leone (from where this account seems to have been lifted verbatim) they were operating in restricted territory against a mainly foot bound, disorganised force, in fairly restricted jungle/ hill terrain, not in a vast Sahel with open flanks against a fairly competent, extremely mobile, well-armed enemy.
In Angola, a much larger EO force operated with several Angolan armoured and mechanised Brigades, supported by Angolan air and artillery support as well as their own organic air and artillery assets. In essence EO could not have successfully completed its campaign in either Angola or Sierra Leone without the host army or their allies.
A small reinforced company could act as a as force multipliers harassing enemy rear areas, raiding, ambushing and interdicting enemy supplies or reinforcements. Such a force would not be able to take or hold towns but they would be able to cause the enemy difficulties and support the main force.
However this task has been undertaken by various Nigeria Army special operations units such as SBS, 72 Bn etc. There is little evidence to show there is such a mercenary force operating in NE Nigeria particularly a multinational one. The success of EO was not just their skill, combat experience and knowledge of Africa but the fact they had common training, doctrine and backgrounds.
As globalised as the world is matching young South Africans with no common military experience with Ukrainians, Americans and so on and throwing them into the Sahel is not a recipe for success.
The comparatively light casualties have also been used to reinforce the notion that Nigerian force are barely doing any fighting. First off, casualties although reduced have not been light. We will discuss the reasons or theory behind this in another piece but it is also clear that Boko Haram being a guerrilla force does not defend everywhere at once, uses IEDs to channel, fix and destroy attacking forces. Better trained, skilled and supported troops can overcome these difficulties much better. But even during the dark days, depleted units such as 111 Bn under Lt Col Opurum were still able to capture and hold defended locations like Delwa with no casualties.
Whilst it might be fashionable to attempt to attempt to explain battlefield successes as being down to the ‘battle hardened’ Chadians or a mercenary superforce zipping around the Sahel, the reality is much more mundane and straight forward.
Renewed political will and better leadership, more troops and new equipment combined with a thickening of morale have finally brought about this outcome.
The salutary lesson is that modern shiny weapons are all for naught if they are not sustained by an efficient, robust, well protected logistics chain. And this is not an excuse to buy new helicopters but simply to build and maintain roads, railways, bridges and logistics bases. Not sexy but vital.
The Nigeria Army’s penchant for always chasing the narrative rather than defining and propagating it, means that our story is being told by others to their interest. Allowing Chads to dominate the headlines whilst their own pronouncements we can show that not only have they not held any town but they are the only ones to concede territory back to Boko Haram, is simply poor media management.
The PMCs and Chadians will get their money and status and depart, Nigeria will remain. The onus is on us to tell our story and tell it well, if not for posterity but for the sake of the many Nigerians who have fallen that we may remain.