Since March 2018 there have been a series of reported (by the military or press) attacks on FOBs in and around Northern Yobe and Borno States.
As this conflict moved towards its 10th year, it is pertinent to review these attacks, establish any patterns and try and learn operational and tactical lessons using open source information from social and traditional media.
19 February– Gunmen attacked Dapchi, Bursari LGA, Yobe State abducting 110 girls from Government Girls Science and Technical College, driving them away in a truck. The abductees were well treated given food and transported by truck, car and canoe across a river and then into a thick forest, where they were kept in a house which was reportedly well camouflaged. 5 girls died during the abduction. A day earlier military checkpoints in the vicinity had been withdrawn
01 March – Gunmen mounted on pick up trucks and motorcycles attacked Rann, Kala Balge LGA, Borno State around 7.00pm with small arms, RPGs and crew served weapons, whilst the garrison was watching a football match killing 4 soldiers, 6 policemen and 4 medical staff for international NGOs, wounding 1 aid worker. A nurse and 2 midwives working for UNICEF and ICRC were abducted.
21 March – Boko Haram ISWAP drove in a 9 vehicle convoy to Dapchi to release 104 schoolgirls and two other children from the town. The return journey reportedly began on Saturday 17th March, when some hostages were loaded onto vehicles for the drive to the village. The release was negotiated by the DSS. The media and the UN alleged a ransom of up to €3m was paid and some detained enemy commanders exchanged. Other sources state that Daesh in Iraq and Syria intervened due to their objection to the abduction of Muslim school children.
01 May – The Army commences Operation Last Hold commanded by Maj Gen Abba Dikko, in Northern Borno/ Lake Chad area with 3 objectives, clearing the remnants of the enemy, assisting IDPs return and protecting them, enabling normal farming and commercial activities from 01 May to 31 August. The Concept of Operations called for deploying 6 additional manoeuvre brigades to conduct clearance operations, patrols to dominate Guzamala, Mobbar, Marte, Gubio, Kala Balge, Ngala, Gubio and Monguno LGAs, clear IEDs, clear Lake Chad of weeds in order to facilitate free movement of boats and people.
08 May –A handwritten signed note was sent to journalist Ahmed Salkida from the 3 medical personnel abducted in Rann, pleading for their release.
05 June – 2 x female and 1 x male PBIED attacked Koura District, Diffa, Diffa Region, Niger Republic around 10.00pm killing 9 people in near simultaneous explosions near a Quaranic School, mosque and shop.
11 June – Elements of 153 TF Bn supported by Camerounian forces conducted clearance operations in the vicinity of Lake CHAD, clearing Bulakeisa, Tumbuma Babba, Abbaganaram and Dan Baure, killing 23 enemy and capturing 6 x AK 47, 2 x FN FAL, 8 x AK 47 magazines, 33 x 7.62mm (NATO) rounds, 1 x 7.62mm (NATO) link belt and 2 x motorcycles
16 June – The Army launched Operation Sharan Gwona da Sharan Gida (Operation Clear Farmlands/ Houses) in Gudumbali, Guzamala LGA, with the return of about 2,000 IDPs to commence farming and normal daily life in the liberated town after fleeing 6 years ago.
18 June – Gunmen mounted in 11 trucks attacked 242Bn in Gajiram, Nganzai LGA Borno State around 5.40pm killing 9 and wounding 2. Approximately 12 enemy were killed.
01 July – Gunmen attacked Nigerien positions in the vicinity of Bla Brin Village, Diffa Region 40km from N’guigmi killing at least 10 Nigerien soldiers, wounding 3 with 4 missing
13 July– Elements of 21 Bde, 22 TF Bde supported by 8 military informants (?), 1 x CJTF vigilante and 2 x hunters mounted in 7 x gun trucks and 2 x Toyota Hilux from Bama, Bama LGA conducted a deliberate operation in Kwakwa, Bama LGA at 9.40am, the operation continued successfully until 4.00pm when vehicles became bogged down in the mud in the vicinity of Boboshe, troops dismounted to proceed on foot. The enemy ambushed friendly forces, scattering them and forcing them to disperse, 2 x gun trucks managed to withdraw. The enemy captured 5 trucks, 5 x AAA guns and all the other abandoned stores and armaments. The NAF responded the next day identifying the 2 x trucks abandoned by the enemy. 1 officer and 2 soldiers were reported MIA, 10 x enemy killed and 4 x AK 47 captured
14 July – Several hundred gunmen mounted in trucks and motorcycles attacked 81 Div Forward Bde (allegedly with 734 pax) in Jilli Village, Geidam LGA, Borno State around 7.30pm. The enemy approached from the Lake Chad area via Gubio and concentrated in the bush, overrunning the base after a 2 hour firefight, killing 3 officers and 28 Other Ranks (OR) and 2 CJTF vigilantes, 1 officer, 24 ORs and 3 CJTF were wounded, 9 CJTF were reported missing in action. The enemy captured the Command Hilux with communications equipment, an ambulance, 2 weeks rations, fuel and lubricants and uniforms. They destroyed 2 x Sino trucks, 1 x Mack Truck and a water tanker in situ as well as burning offices, stores and a church
21 July– Gunmen ambushed a 233 Bn patrol on Sarawa Road in the vicinity of Babangida, Tarmuwa LGA, Yobe State killing 8 (20 in some reports) soldiers, wounding 1 (20 in some reports) and destroying at least on vehicle mounted with an AAA gun
26 July – Gunmen mounted in up to 30 vehicles and motorcycles attacked Jakana, Konduga LGA, Borno State around 5.42pm from the west via Benisheik with small arms, crew served weapons and RPGs, overrunning the adjacent military base and burning down the police station, killing at least 2 soldiers, 2 policemen and a civilian and wounding 3 soldiers and 9 civilians. Friendly forces fell back to Kolori, until police and military counter attacked after about 2 hours defeating the enemy. The enemy withdrew suffering unknown casualties capturing 1 x truck mounting an AAA gun, 2 x Toyota Hilux and 1 x APC as well as foodstuffs and other stores
27 July – Gunmen mounted on 3 x gun trucks attacked Mairari Village, Monguno LGA, Borno State around 6.50pm. Troops from the FOB counter attacked with air support, killing 16 enemy, recapturing 2 x gun trucks and 163 x AAA gun rounds. 1 soldier and 4 civilians were killed
27 July – Gunmen mounted in 5 trucks and several motorcycles attacked a checkpoint in Bunari, Guzamala LGA, Borno State near Monguno around 6.30pm with small arms killing 11 soldiers and 3 civilians and overrunning the checkpoint, capturing 1 x APC, a gun truck and 2 other trucks. Friendly forces from Monguno counter attacked recapturing the position
03 August – Gunmen mounted in 10 trucks attacked Gasarwa, Nganzai LGA, Borno State near Monguno defeating vigilantes and setting the village on fire killing 2 elderly men and 3 children and destroying food and livestock.
06 August – Gunmen mounted on trucks and motorcycles attacked Munduri Village, Nganzai LGA, Borno State at dawn with small arms and RPGs capturing and murdering 7 people and burning the village.
08 August – Gunmen mounted in trucks attacked 81 Bde, military positions in Garunda, Guzamala LGA, Borno State, killing 17 troops and an excavator operator and wounding 14. They overran the base stealing weapons, vehicles and equipment before retreating. The Troops had relocated from Jilli and were preparing new defensive positions when attacked. The Army stated they killed 7, suffering 8 wounded.
15 August – Gunmen attacked military positions in Gundari, Guzamala LGA, Borno State, friendly forces repelled the attack killing 7 enemy
17 August – Gunmen mounted in vehicles attacked Malari, Guzamala LGA, Borno State, with small arms and RPGs around 8.00pm burning 40 houses and looting foodstuffs
19 August -Gunmen attacked Mairari Village, Guzamala LGA, Borno State, near Monguno around 2.00am with small arms and RPGs, killing up to 19 people. NPF stationed in the village allegedly withdrew when attacked. Locals allege that the enemy had been sighted massing 3 days prior to the attack but troops ignored their warning.
27 August – Boko Haram ISWAP released an audio recording with a still photo of the 3 nurses abducted from Rann in March 2018, dated Saturday 13 August (the closest Saturday was 11 August), pleading for their release
28 August – Boko Haram released an audio recording and still photograph of Leah Sharibu, the remaining Dapchi abductee, pleading with the President for assistance in facilitating her release
30 August – Gunmen mounted in 12 trucks attacked 2 Div TF Bn positions in Zari, Guzamala LGA, Borno State, 30km east of Damasak from the direction of Garunda with crew served weapons, IEDs, RPGs and small arms around 4.00pm. The enemy approached dressed in military style uniforms through nearby villages. The base was overrun with 31 reported killed and 19 wounded. Friendly forces responded with air strikes with bombs and rockets, from NAF Alphajet, F7Ni and Mi 35 supported by 2 x ISR platforms, destroying at least 2 vehicles, allowing reinforcements from 145 Bn to counter attack and retake the base. The enemy burnt communications equipment and accommodations and looted APCs, AAA guns, a water tanker, utility trucks, an ambulance and other equipment before withdrawal. 17 soldiers bodies were discovered in the bush around the town.
08 September – Gunmen mounted on motorcycles and pick up trucks attacked Gudumbali, Guzamala LGA, Borno State, with small arms, AAA guns and RPGs around 7.50pm, overrunning the base early the next morning around 5.00am. The enemy reportedly passed through the town, without molesting civilians allowing them to flee before launching the attack. Troops withdrew towards Gajiram, 8 civilians in the base were killed
12 September Gunmen attacked 145Bn positions in Damasak, Mobbar LGA, Borno State around 7.00pm. The enemy was defeated with the aid of NAF ISR and close air support around 11.00pm, with 7 friendly wounded, 7 enemy killed and 2 x vehicles 1 x AAA gun, 4 x AK 47, 7 x AK 47 magazines, 1 x bayonet, 47 x 7.62mm (AK), 174 x 7.62mm (NATO) and 2 x HE grenades captured.
Summary: the timeline indicates that before the FOB attacks started on 18 June, there were 2 significant events. The first is the abduction and release of the Dapchi abductees, the second is Op Last Hold deploying additional troops to Northern Yobe and Borno and the return of IDPs. There were then 2 ambushes and 14 deliberate attacks on fixed positions. One ambush took place at an extended range from Lake Chad in Bama, the Jakana raid was not only far from Lake Chad but less than an hour from Maiduguri.
Several interesting factors can be deduced from the information above:
Distance/ distribution: majority of the attacks have been within 150km of Lake Chad. The area around Gajiram and Gudumbali saw the majority of the initial attacks against FOBs and checkpoints, however Jilli, Dapchi and Babangida are over 250km from Lake Chad. Travelling as the crow flies these are journeys that should take 1-2 hours or 2-3 hours respectively. However moving a force of up to 10 vehicles tactically over unmade roads through water soaked ground would take considerably longer.
Terrain: whilst the Sahel Savannah is generally dry, the area south of the Komadougou Yobe River forms a seasonal wetland, with grass, trees, forests, marshes, seasonal streams and rivers. This terrain restricts movement to heavy armoured vehicles but is passable to all terrain vehicles with appropriate guides. The vegetation whilst not continuous forest or jungle is enough to aid cover from view whilst the numerous tiny scattered villages can provide sustenance to a force living off the land.
Type of attacks: other than the ambushes in Tarmuwa and Boboshe, all the attacks have been deliberate combined arms attacks with support weapons such as vehicle mounted AAA guns, mortars, improvised rockets and recoilless rifles, as well as dismounts with small arms, RPGs and machine guns. Enemy tactics have varied slightly, with deception being used in some circumstances to gain entry, in others support weapons have been used to suppress the position before attack. However in all cases the enemy uses overwhelming force in their attacks.
Time of attacks: the attacks have mostly been in the evening between 4.00pm and 8.00pm, with some dawn and early morning attacks as well. 5.00pm to 7.30pm appears to be the most popular time range. These timings could be to coincide with evening meals at the FOBs but more likely, to reduce the risk of interference from the NAF. Even if aircraft could scramble immediately it would take them 30-40 minutes to arrive, giving them at most an hour of daylight to acquire and destroy targets. In reality the length of time it takes to request, authorise and task air support means aircraft would generally arrive after nightfall limiting their ability to support friendly troops. The enemy can thus loot the base until early morning and then extract before dawn with their loot.
Conduct: the enemy has been careful to not unduly harm civilians, generally issuing warnings that they are not the target but also extorting funds and stealing food and livestock. This demonstrates that whilst the enemy no longer uses gratuitous violence, it is still highly predatory, seeing civilians as a resource to be extracted from as opposed to an audience to be won over. Little effort is given to proselytising during attacks although this may be due to logical practical limitations. During the release of the Dapchi girls the enemy preached to the crowd who came back to welcome the girls.
Propaganda: well photographed well produced videos have been made with several clear messages. One message seems to be to emphasise the professionalism of Boko Haram ISWAP, showing them receiving orders, forming up for the attack and fighting through competently. Nigerian forces are shown either withdrawing or dead. Enemy fighters are shown holding their weapons properly and taking aimed shots. Aircraft are shown and in the next frame a heavy machine gun is shown firing into the air, whether a vehicle in the open would actually risk engaging aircraft whist in the open is questionable but the message of defiance and fearlessness was presented. Captured loot is shown messaging not just their own audience of the spoils that await but highlighting that they were able to escape not just unscathed but with goodies.
Friendly forces action: the announcement of Op Last Hold with the specified objective of placing troops in the Northern Borno and Yobe adjacent to the Nigeria/ Niger Republic border and athwart the Damasak- Baga axis would have constituted a threat to enemy operations. An established presence in this area would not only affect Boko Haram ISWAPs armed actions but also their economic actions. These FOBs would serve as a jump off point for a dry season offensive towards Lake Chad, with Boko Haram ISWAP potentially caught between Op Last Hold, MNJTF and other forces. The returning civilian population would act as a screen for friendly forces providing information about enemy movements and also serve as a contrast to those people trapped under enemy control. If Boko Haram ISWAP had intended to have a quiet rainy season, then Op Last Hold put paid to that.
Based on the information publically available we can assume:
- Boko Haram ISWAP is conducting a deliberate offensive to deny Northern Borno and Yobe to Nigerian forces.
- Boko Haram ISWAPs intent appears to be to reduce Nigerian FOBs through the attrition of men and materiel, forcing Nigerian forces into a defensive as opposed to an offensive battle in order to preserve their base areas from sustained ground attack
- A secondary objective is to capture as much materiel and equipment as possible to replenish enemy stocks and increase the costs to friendly forces
- In order to achieve this objective Boko Haram ISWAP has retained or regenerated their capability to operate successfully at range
- However they do not have the ability to take and hold ground for longer than 12-24 hours
- To reduce targets in the given timeframe the enemy must use overwhelming force, necessitating the concentration and movement of large convoys of vehicles and motorcycles
It is in the opinion of this author that Boko Haram ISWAP has been involved in a thus far successful campaign of spoiling attacks to prevent the establishment of friendly FOBs and prevent friendly forces from dominating the ground. The enemy has focussed on attacking FOBs close to Lake Chad as often as they can with larger scale attacks at range to prevent the bigger FOBs from being established that would support the Lake Chad FOBs.
Kidnap for ransom and propaganda can be considered a key part of Boko Haram ISWAPs enabling operations, while it cannot be conclusively stated that the Dapchi raid funded this offensive, there is a clear pattern of the Nigerian government paying ransoms for high profile abductees. The alleged objections of Daesh over taking Muslim hostages contrasts with the abduction of the Rann nurses and in 2017 the abduction of Muslim UNIMAID oil prospectors.
Nigerian military intentions to garrison Northern Yobe and Borno were correct, a successful operation would have reduced enemy freedom of movement and forced them to disperse, fight attritional battles on friendly forces terms or else be confined to a small space where they could be reduced with air power.
This plan however was poorly executed, failing to anticipate an enemy reaction or adequately prepare sub units to fight aggressive defensive battles.
In the next instalment we will try to establish if there any operational or tactical lessons that can be learned from this offensive.