Despite severe battlefield defeats and loss of territory, supplies and manpower (particularly in central and southern Borno State), Boko Haram is far from defeated.
Whilst the enemy has closely followed Maoist doctrine of retreating in the face of strong friendly forces and attacking where they are not expected such as in northern Yobe and Southern Diffa Region in Niger Republic, the enemies weapon of choice – the IED has been used relatively sparingly.
In June 2015 there were over 18 distinct deliberate IED attacks in Nigeria, Niger Republic, Cameroun and Chad and 27 attacks across the 4 countries in July 2015 including 6 different states in Nigeria, using diverse weapons such as PBIEDs (person borne IEDs), VBIEDs (vehicle borne IEDs), remote control and timed devices.
June 2016 saw 3 attacks in Nigeria and 1 in Cameroun. The first in Kusari, Maiduguri failed when the 2 PBIEDs were shot by vigilante at a checkpoint on 17th June, on the 22nd a device either abandoned or laid in a Keke Napep tricycle was made safe by EOD in Gomari, Maiduguri whilst on the 27th 2 males detonated outside a mosque in Sulemanti Ward, Maiduguri after being stopped by vigilantes killing only themselves but wounding one vigilante. Notwithstanding the latest attack in Damboa, one must go back to May for a successful strategic IED attack in Nigeria and even then it was thwarted by security measures at point of entry. In Cameroun there was successful IED attack on 29 June in a video viewing room used by vigilante in Djakana, Mayo Sava Department killing 12 and wounding 4.
Other than these deliberate attacks IEDs have been used tactically in defensive positions or for ambushes.
As discussed in previous articles, Boko Harams IEDs range from small handheld devices (drink can size) to medium devices (backpack, food flask, explosive vest or small gas cylinder) to large vehicle borne devices, however in 2016 the enemy has predominantly used small to medium devices.
The lethality of the devices can also be seen to have been decreased with 4 killed and 1 wounded in the 3 Nigerian attacks and 12 in Cameroun. A lot of this is due to active security measures but could also be due to a reduction in access to IED making materials.
Factors behind reduced attacks
Loss of safe areas: the defeat of Boko Haram conventional forces in and around central and Southern Maiduguri, southern Yobe and in Adamawa State has deprived the enemy of safe areas in which to build devices. The assault on the Sambisa Forest has restricted enemy freedom of movement and sanctuary. Thus fewer devices are made and they are generally more difficult to get to target areas
Loss of IED making facilities: A significant number of IED making facilities have been captured and overrun in the past few months particularly in the Sambisa Forest but also in Kala Balge LG and Kukawa LGA on the Nigeria/ Cameroun border. The loss of these physical locations is important due to their proximity to target areas but even more important is the loss of IED making materials and the death, capture or displacement of skilled IED makers in these operations.
Loss of IED making material: IEDs require explosives (home made, commercial or military) detonators, batteries, wires, and containers. Restrictions on fertilisers, petrol and other fuel have reduced the enemies access to a source of home made explosives. Conversely Boko Harams weakened conventional strength, means they no longer regularly capture or overrun military or police outposts reducing the amount of captured ammunition available to be converted into IEDs. Improved security at (or closure of) mining and commercial explosive sites has reduced access to these sources as well.
Improved security measures: the improved screening and searches by the military, police and vigilantes at checkpoints and access points to potential targets has reduced the lethality of successful mass casualty attacks.
The enemy is likely to continue to use IEDs strategically, operationally and tactically.
Tactical use of IEDs:
The tactical use of IEDs to defend enemy positions as well as ambush friendly and allied forces lines of communication is likely to continue and in some sectors become the only form of combat as Boko Haram becomes increasingly incapable of mounting major combat operations. Conversely in the north of the AO in southern Diffa Region, Lake Chad and northern Borno and Yobe States where Boko Haram still has large conventional forces, IEDs will also likely feature heavily in attacks. The more friendly and allied bases Boko Haram successfully attacks the more IED components they will have and the more they will be able to launch attacks.
Operational use of IEDs
Operationally the enemy will still try to use IEDs to shape the battlespace as well as influence friendly behaviours, by means of IED ambushes along approaches and lines of communications in Mayo Sava Department, Cameroun, Gwoza, Baga, the Sambisa Forest etc. compelling Nigerian and allied forces to continue investing heavily in Counter IED and EOD resources but it is likely due to the restricting factors above the number of IED attacks will reduce however conversely they are likely to be more effective as the enemy uses their reduced resources to best effect with well targeted attacks.
Strategic use of IEDs
Strategically (and particularly around Eid) it is likely that the enemy will seek to launch a series of spectacular attacks with IEDs and small arms against densely populated targets (such as markets, hotels, mosques, prayer grounds, relaxation and tourist spots) in major population centres like Maiduguri, Potiskum, Yola, Damaturu, Kano, Abuja, Kaduna, Zaria, Jos, Kolofata, Maroua, N’Djamena, Diffa and possibly Sokoto or Lokoja.
These cities are high risk as they have already suffered attacks indicating that the enemy has established cells and supply chains to store and transport devices and bombers and conduct reconnaissance and target selection. These cities all have some sort of significance to the enemy either as bastions of conservative Islamic establishment such as Kano, or Shia sects such as Kaduna or Zaria, or previous religious tensions such as Jos or symbols of government power such as Abuja and Maiduguri.
As discussed in previous articles the key objective will be to cause mass casualties. Unlike Daesh affiliated groups there is unlikely to be any discrimination between non Africans or non Muslim victims nor any specific demand linked to the attack.
The attackers are likely to be young non-local males equipped with rifles, grenades and/or IEDs. They are likely to try to infiltrate their targets masquerading as staff, guests, worshippers or security personnel. It is likely the weapons will be kept separately from the attackers until the last possible moment.
The attackers will aim to inflict as many casualties as possible until the security forces respond, engage them for as long as possible and possibly draw them into IED ambushes.
During or immediately after the attacks there is likely to be a hasty claim of responsibility, this will be followed in the next few days or weeks by a more detailed claim featuring videos and posed shots of the attackers.
Attacks in Lagos or other southern cities would have far greater novelty and thus more impact are much less likely but not impossible or improbable.
Infiltrating trained fighters would be relatively easy however attackers recruited from north eastern Nigeria or Chad, Cameroun or Niger would be much more obvious and also find it much harder to find their way around, to counter this the enemy would need to conceal themselves amongst the Northern community in the target states. This would expose the fighters to contact with people who could speak to or question them and alert the security forces to the presence of strangers.
Whilst IEDs could be built locally and weapons procured from local criminals, this again forces an interface with an unsympathetic populace. Smuggling them in from the north runs the risk of discovery at the numerous checkpoints.
Whilst southern cities would provide numerous ideal targets and excellent propaganda value, the logistic effort of one unsuccessful attack could probably support numerous attacks in the north with a higher probability of success.
IEDs remain a serious threat particularly to the security forces operating in the North East, however the threat to civilians has significantly reduced particularly in cities further away from the fighting.
The enemies strategic IED attacks to cause mass casualties are infrequent and generally fail, the devices are infinitely less lethal and mostly kill the bearers.
Conversely however this reality could compel the enemy to reassess its strategic IED campaign and direct it elsewhere, gathering their reduced resources for more dramatic attacks further away from previous targets with alert patrols and checkpoints and focus on smaller les defended targets as Djakana and Damboa demonstrate.
A continuation in this state of affairs depends heavily on continued battlefield success, for if Boko Haram once again gathers large conventional forces and defines a safe area for themselves, it is likely that IED attacks will again increase in frequency and lethality.