Technically Defeated: The Nigerian Army’s Operation Against Boko Haram

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
  • Intelligence
  • 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.


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 Defence, Nigeria Strategy, Stabilisation, Terrorism and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Technically Defeated: The Nigerian Army’s Operation Against Boko Haram

  1. datvires says:

    Wise words reinforced by many examples in history

  2. S Phelps says:

    But IS Boko Haram actually defeated?

    In 2016 the group was linked to 131 incidents in Borno State, 11 in Northern Adamawa and 9 in Yobe. In the first six months alone of 2017, we have seen 110 in Borno, 7 in northern Adamawa and 6 in Yobe. The frequency of suicide bombings is increasing.

    So while the military successfully dislodged Boko Haram from holding ground in the three states, dismantled the so-called Caliphate, and demonstrated that it is capable of learning and adapting to combat a dynamic and determined adversary, the war against BH is far from over.

    The numbers above suggest a resurgent and resilient Boko Haram that has adapted to the new security paradigm and if they are correct (the source is very reliable), it is too early for self congratulation.

    • peccavi says:

      Thats why the phrase ‘Technical defeat’ is so in vogue.
      Boko Haram’s has been defeated as an offensive, ground holding force, it is unable to over run towns or operate freely far from its core areas so yes it is technically defeated.
      But then the VC was technically defeated after the Tet Offensive as well but in the end that didn’t matter.
      The number and tempo of attacks are a misnomer as the attacks are less successful and lethal than before, however they are indicative that Boko Haram’s will is far from broken

      • S Phelps says:

        Boko Haram has been ‘defeated’ at least three times now. Each time it has bounced back, bigger, stronger, more violent and more radical.

        On current form, the group will mount almost twice as many attacks this year as last year. The lethality of these attacks will likely increase as they continue to adapt to the new military tactics, learn how to make more sophisticated IEDs and possibly even recruit jihadists displaced from the Middle East.

        The original article makes no mention of the significant impact generated by STTEP and its introduction of relentless pursuit tactics that have been perfected in other bush wars on the continent.

  3. peccavi says:

    I would argue that it is more resilient but definitely not stronger, the use of PBIEDs is a terror tactic but operationally and tactically irrelevant. Unlike Daesh who use PBIEDs and VBIEDs in combat as a form of fire support. Boko Haram use theirs simply to cause civilian casualties
    Like most militaries the Nigerian Army is not partial to mercs, the question of PMCs did come up in the Q&A and the COAS stated they left at the end of their contract, which Eeben Barlow himself confirmed was a 3 month period. The COAS stated their main contribution was with air assets and training.
    STTEP only trained one unit (to my knowledge) 72 Battalion, which fought a good campaign but it was not solely responsible for the defeat of Boko Haram in 2015.
    And more to the point, non of the lessons (as far as I can tell) have been institutionalised and 72 Bn is currently in a ground holding rather than offensive role.

  4. oscarlarento says:

    Boko Haram is an ideology, as such very difficult to conclusively defeat. So long as they are preachers ready to preach the message, they will always find foot soldiers ready to die for the cause.

    The army has greatly diminished Boko Haram’s footprint in the NE. The large swath of territories which they previously held as diminished. Also their equipment and manpower has been greatly degraded.

    However they remain a potent force, easily able to deployable and concentrate tremendous firepower on Nigerian personnel and facilities.

    I believe that the next phase of the war would require a lot of intelligence gathering assets, able to locate BHT before they form up and commence their attacks. They are at their weakest phase during this period.

    Also MRAP & mine detection vehicles and equipment, to neutralize the IEDs which have become an effective weapon for inflicting casualties on the army.

    As for the NA personnel, we know they have the fight in them to suppress BHT and when they are properly retooled they will be able to effective deal with the harassing raids of the BHT

    • peccavi says:

      I agree in a way but I think that it will need 3 key elements
      Ground holding
      Mobile Strike.

      The Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance element to find, deceive and disrupt BH, which will support the other 2 factors.

      Ground holding is key, as a system of bases, foot, vehicle and aerial patrols will reduce BH freedom of movement and force them to be purely reactive.

      TO destroy them is where mobile strike comes in and in that I mean a highly mobile force using light all terrain vehicles, helicopters, boats (on Lake Chad) to seek out BH (using intelligence and deduction) and forcing them to fight.
      The patrols and bases will aid this process as they will be a constant source of intelligence.
      This is why the concept of withdrawing forces and moving to stabilisation operations is so curious to me. This is actually the time to be pouring in more forces to ensure they cannot regenerate

      • oscarlarento says:

        I absolutely agree with your position sir. I believe the big question marks lies in how to ensure the NA ground holding forces are not repeatedly isolated, attacked and obliterated. This has been BH’s style since time immemorial. It’s the cheapest means by which they have been able to replenish their stock i.e getting arms and equipment. They do not seem to mind how many of them are KIAed on such operations, and of course they get to shoot their fanciful terror videos.

        They have replicated this capacity across the four countries that border the Lake Chad area. As a matter of fact, I am greatly impressed that the NA is yet to lose APCs to them during such daring attacks as was prevalent in 2014 & 2015.

        As to the mobile strike forces, that is where the issue of the IEDs are of great concern to me because the NA does not have the right number of MRAPS or equipment in the theatre which can protect its men from this vociferous threat as well as the threat of ambushes which is quite prevalent now. How do you foresee the NA dealing with this critical issue? the men may likely refrain from engaging in pursuits in unknown terrain in those hilux vehicles because of fear of IED and ambushes, scary.

  5. peccavi says:

    Excellent points but the way to ensure that units are not isolated and overrun is several fold
    1) Design and build properly reinforced bases, with strong reinforced bunkers, overhead cover and elevated positions. So many NA FOBS and bases have absolutely shit force protection methods. YOu will see tall grass and trees right the way up to the base perimeter, inadequate trenches, postions without interlocking arcs of fire or bases dominated by other features such as hills or forests
    2) COrrect weapon systems. Every base should have a mortar at least and each base should be in range of artillery, that way, forces can get fire support without waiting for aircraft
    3) Logisitics needs to be improved, imporve roads and make them all weather but also develop multiple routes so supplies can get to bases and use support helicopters to supply far flung bases.
    As for IEDs MRAPs are useful but I think we need to look for a more cheap and cheerful solution as the SADF did in Namibia, buying different MRAPs just increases the logistic burden, personally I believe the Hilux is a good vehicle for this kind of task as a patrol or fighting vehicle but it can be modified to provide better IED protection

    • S Phelps says:

      I believe that during the previous presidency, the Brits offered to build a complete FOB at Jaji free of charge as a training facility and also train the NA in operating in and from the FOB. This would have been based on lessons learned and best practice taken from Afghanistan and Iraq. The training facility would have allowed the NA engineers to learn and subsequently emulate the design and construction, and the manoeuvre elements to learn and apply SOPs that have been honed in high-intensity environments elsewhere but where the threat is similar. The offer was turned down for reasons best known only to the senior NA officer who made that decision.

      FOB locations should always have good fields of view and fields of fire. The conditions you describe indicate poor selection and/or siting of FOBs. Is this a case of environmental constraints or simply poor tactical awareness? If FOBs are being established in existing compounds then they will always have tactical drawbacks as farming communities generally do not build compounds with military operations in mind and can quickly generate a siege mentality among the occupying elements. Purpose built FOBs, sited with operational considerations in mind, will always be easier to defend and provide a better platform from which to dominate the surrounding area.

      The IED issue is different and, IMHO, Hilux vehicles are not suitable unless you operate off the roads. If you are stuck to the roads then you need protection from such devices. The UK found that lightly armoured landrovers were woefully inadequate in an IED environment. The adversary can easily establish which routes are used and lay devices at a time and place of their choosing. However, if you get off the roads and go cross country your increased unpredictability means that Hilux might – on a good day – be adequate. But the final approaches to FOBs will always be limited and likely to be heavily seeded with IEDs.

      The other issue with IEDs is that the unmade roads of the region present excellent terrain in which to deploy cheap and easily manufactured pressure-plate type triggers, which are easy to conceal in such terrain. Metaled roads present greater, though not insurmountable challenges to the adversary in terms of initiation mechanisms.

      • peccavi says:

        @ S. Phelps, I’ll reserve my comments on the thought process of senior NA officers!! Unfortunately the top cadre during the last dispensation did not distinguish themselves in any way.
        The issues I’ve described are universal from the marshy delta, to the jungles of the south east to the Sahel of the North East.

        NA fighting positions are almost always poorly constructed, poorly sited and poorly manned.
        Sandbags are badly stacked and do not provide full protection, there is no OHP, fields of fire are normally not clear, foliage is allowed to grow close to positions and no account seems to be made of dead ground, camoflauge, concealment or even deception are ignored. It is very frustrating.
        I agree Hiluxes are not ideal however in terms of patrols or assaults MRAPs are big, expensive, gas guzzlers. I would like the NA to adopt an upgraded version of the SADFs Buffell or Caspirr, maybe based on the Unimog chassis.
        But the reality is that majority of the terrain in the NE is rough and you will be driving off road and vulnerable to IEDs but an MRAP will not outrun or catch up with a motorcycle and is limited (particulalry in rainy season) to tarred or at least reasonably ok dirt roads.
        I guess its a toss up between mobility and protection. I would plump for mobility with added protection.
        There is a vehicle made in the UAE based on the Toyota which would be ideal, giving protection against IEDs but with the mobility and cross country ability of a Hilux and the firepower of 3-4 MGs

    • oscarlarento says:

      Superb. My thoughts exactly particularly as regards the NA base protection set up

      • S Phelps says:

        I wonder what happened to the controversially immense security budget allocated by the Jonathan government? Given the size of that allocation, one could reasonably expect the Nigerian security forces to have the right blend of capabilities to cope with unmade roads and rainy seasons!

  6. peccavi says:

    ALot of it ended up in Switzerland and in the homes of senior officers and officials!

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