Nigeria’s’ Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt Gen Buratai recently visited the UK, giving a presentation on ‘The Nigerian Army’s Operation Against Boko Haram’ at the Royal United Services Institute in London.
We will examine this lecture and what it tells us about how the Nigerian Army perceives its operations against Boko Haram and equally importantly how it wishes the rest of the world to perceive its operations.
The COAS identified 12 key factors that helped turn the tide against Boko Haram as:
- Provision of Purposeful leadership
- Understanding the Operating Environment
- Nature and type of conflict
- Strategy and tactics employed
- Logistics support
- State of manpower
- Media and information operations
- Psychological operations
- Respect for human rights
- Cooperation with other security agencies
- International collaboration
Provision of Purposeful leadership: was exemplified by the change in political and military leadership, reorganisation at the operational and tactical level (the nature of which was unspecified), the relocation of theatre command to Maiduguri and the COASs’ personal visits to the operational area were considered key
Understanding the Operating Environment: the operational area was defined as Adamawa, Borno, Yobe, Bauchi and Gombe States, with Borno, Adamawa and Yobe alone estimated (why it is still an estimate is curious) at 152,000 square kilometres, with poor infrastructure and limited government involvement. To overcome this, he stated the Army had opened up inaccessible areas through road construction and improved situational awareness by the creation of the Nigerian Army Special Forces School (NASFS), Buni Yadi to conduct pre deployment training for troops about to deploy to the operational area.
Nature and type of conflict: he identified that the nature of the group was peculiar, was very resilient with a loose structure and unconventional tactics
Strategy and tactics employed: he identified strategic changes such as the creation of the theatre command, deployment of Tactical Divisional HQ’s for 3 and 7 Division and the creation of 8 Division, as well as the adjustment of unit boundaries. Operationally he identified the use of IED clearance vehicles and detectors to improve mobility, the creation of a Nigeria Army Aviation unit, the deployment of Motorcycle Battalions and CIMIC activities.
Operational activities have included the deployment of blocking forces (he did not specify where), Special Forces action and mobile clearance operations which had cleared over 200 villages and freed 46,000 abductees
Logistics support: he highlighted the importance of logistics, emergency procurement of arms and equipment and establishment of logistics bases
State of manpower: he stated there had been an improvement in the quality and number of troops deployed, with an increase from 58 to 112 units (he did not specify the type of units, one can assume he means battalions) from July 2015 to date whilst troop numbers had increased from 18, 350 to 36,500 in the same time period. Facilities at the Nigerian Army School of Infantry (NASI) had been improved and expanded to include counter IED, anti ambush, patrols, cordon and search and raids techniques as well as regular troop rotations, medical evacuation, leave passes and prompt payment
Intelligence: he stated that seamless links between operational cells and intelligence were vital and that HUMINT, TECHINT and SIGINT, information from captured enemy, IDPs and escapees were being used to develop an intelligence picture, in addition to the use Nigerian ISR platforms and those of the P3 Partners (USA, UK and France).
Media and information operations: the COAS stated he had implemented a new media policy to better inform the public, using embedded journalists that accompanied senior officers and the increased use of social media
Psychological operations: he stated the Army had targeted hearts and minds through quick impact projects like roads, boreholes and medical outreaches as well as using leaflets to disseminate information.
Respect for human rights: in order to establish respect for human rights he stated that the Department for Civil Military Affairs expanded to include a human rights desk. A Code of Conduct and Rules of Engagement had been developed and distributed to troops and international NGOs such as the ICRC invited in to inspect detention facilities. He also stated they had provided an enabling environment for 69 international NGOs to provide humanitarian assistance
Cooperation with other security agencies: he highlighted the NAF was providing close air support, air interdiction, aerial surveillance, casualty evacuation, air lift and resupply. The Navy had deployed the Nigerian Navy Special Boat Service (NN SBS) to Lake Chad and the provided patrol boats. The police, NSCDC, Immigration and Customs were also identified as having been deployed in Borno and Yobe States
International collaboration: he highlighted joint operations around Lake Chad by the MNJTF, intelligence sharing, training, logistics with others such as the P3, Community of Sahel Saharan States and Islamic Coalition against Terrorism.
Current Situation: he stated that since July 2015, the number of LGA’s in Borno State with a military presence had increased from 4 to 27 (out of 27), as well as parts of Yobe and Adamawa State, 3,133 enemy killed, 5,475 arrested, 32 IED making facilities destroyed, 81 IEDs destroyed, 689 successful ambushed, 1,155 arms captured, 85,349 x rounds of ammunition captured, 100, 852 persons rescued and enemy numbers reduced from approximately 35,000 to 1,500.
Friendly casualties were put at 269 troops had been killed, 524 wounded and 12 missing.
Stabilisation: the COAS concluded by stating that the Army was transitioning into the stabilisation phase, moving from major operations to small scale mop up, clearance operations, moving to highly mobile brigades, a phased draw down of troops, rotation of troops in theatre, the deployment of police and other security agencies and facilitating the restoration of civil administration
The presentation gave out very little information that could not be gleaned from open sources which was disappointing as the COAS schedule of public meetings in the UK, such as the RUSI presentation, the Land Warfare Conference and media appearances were obviously part of a programme of engagement with the international defence and security community to sell the narrative of the ‘technical defeat of Boko Haram’.
Overall it is safe to say that the factors identified correctly led to the technical defeat of Boko Haram, The COAS correctly identified leadership as a key problem at the political, strategic and operational level but he did not expand on what the Army’s strategy was or any particular tactics used, rather he highlighted organisational changes such as boundary adjustments, operational activities such as mobility, the use of blocking forces, special forces and mobile clearance operations without specifying how they functioned in his concept of operations much less identify his intent.
Clarifying those points would also have helped in understanding how CIMIC intelligence, media ops and psyops were being used in the campaign. Each of these areas have shown improvement but it is not clear how they fit into the overall campaign plan beyond a directive from the COAS to improve all these fields.
Logistics was mentioned as important but no details as to what logistical problems they had or if and how they were overcome.
Although the presentation summarised the key points that the COAS needed to get across quite well, the lack of detail and unimaginative delivery did not do justice to this fascinating story of defeat into victory.
More worryingly the brief had no clear picture of the Enemies situation or even an honest appraisal of the current situation for friendly forces, rendering the conclusion about transitioning into Stabilisation Operations slightly suspect.
For a war that is being fought for the people, amongst the people the section on ‘Nature and type of conflict’ was one of the shortest parts of the presentation with little indication of an in depth understanding of the enemy. ‘Understanding the nature of the conflict’ related to problems related to the terrain, with nary a mention of the peculiarities of the physical and human terrain. Even the exact size of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe State were an estimate.
It is unclear if this is because the Army does not wish to share this information or does not have it.
Without a fundamental understanding of the operating environment much less the enemy, their objectives, origins, structure, intent, motivation and capabilities it is impossible to categorically state that that enemy is defeated much less to move into the post conflict stage.
Boko Haram commanders may not have read Mao Tse Tsungs’ treatise Yu Chi Chan (On Guerrilla Warfare) but they have followed it and its Vietnamese variant, which breaks a conflict into 3 flexible stages of Defence (Preparation and Organisation), Equilibrium (Terrorism/ guerrilla warfare) and Offense (Conventional warfare).
In recent months, the enemy has successfully raided Maiduguri, repeatedly ambushed friendly forces in the past few months and launched dozens of suicide bombing attacks against Maiduguri and in Extreme Nord Region Cameroun.
The enemy appears to have a strong presence in the LGA’s around Sambisa Forest such as Jere, Konduga, Damboa and Biu and whilst quiet in the areas around Lake Chad, have not been reduced or defeated.
Raids on villages to steal food, livestock and people have continued unabated
All of this is happening whilst the experienced and combat hardened units are being replaced or completely rotated out.
If one recalls the Maoist dictum ‘The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy stops, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue’ then it’s safe to argue that these actions are not those of a defeated enemy, rather an enemy that is organising and preparing, whilst engaging in terrorism and guerrilla warfare in preparation for an offensive.
The Nigerian Army is keen to impress a narrative on the world, their foreign partners and within Nigeria that reforms and a change in leadership have been effective and have led to a defeat of Boko Haram.
This narrative is broadly correct however the Army also appears to have drawn the conclusion that the operational defeat of Boko Haram is the same as the strategic defeat of Boko Haram and thus they can transition from major combat operations to stabilisation.
This is clearly contrary to the nature of insurgencies as well as the clear actions of Boko Haram themselves who have accepted their operational defeat as simply part of an extended campaign, in which, they have simply traded space for time, without losing the will or capability to fight or to take the fight to the Army and to its headquarters in Maiduguri.
It is a curious and disappointing that at the stage of the campaign where the Army should be reinforcing success, by flooding the operational area with more troops to hunt down and destroy the weakened remnants of Boko Haram, the Army is in essence declaring victory and withdrawing.
Whilst it remains true that Boko Haram is technically defeated, they will not remain so for long.