General with a Deadline: Ibrahim Attahiru’s 40 Days to Seize Boko Haram Leader Abu Bakr Shekau, Dead or Alive

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Report, July 29, 2017

After an eight year hunt for Boko Haram leader Abu Bakr Shekau, Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Yusufu Buratai, has placed one of the nation’s top generals in an uncomfortable spot by issuing him a forty-day deadline to apprehend Shekau, dead or alive.

Major General Ibrahim Attahiru

The Man and the Mission

The order was given on July 21 to Major General Ibrahim Attahiru, the Theatre commander in northeast Nigeria and leader of the anti-Boko Haram Operation “Lafiya Dole.” [1]

As commanding officer of the Nigerian Army’s 82nd Division, Attahiru directed Operation Crocodile Smile, a joint forces amphibious operation launched against militants in the Niger Delta on August 29, 2016. Attahiru declared the operation a success at its close in mid-September, having killed 23 militants and carrying out the destruction of 38 camps and 91 illegal oil refineries. Army losses included four drowned and one victim of militant fire (Today [Lagos], September 18, 2016). [2] General Attahiru was the Director of Administration Defence Headquarters when appointed to the Borno theatre.

Attahiru and Operation Lafiya Dole

Attahiru took command of the North-East Theatre and Operation Lafiya Dole in May 2017 after a surprise shakeup of leading Nigerian Army commanders. Attahiru replaced Major General Lucky Irabor, who had served 14 months in the post and had the confidence of many of his officers despite repeated and unfulfilled predictions of an imminent Boko Haram collapse. Irabor was posted as the new Force Commander of the Multi-national Joint Task Force (MNJTF), a regional effort to combat Boko Haram with its headquarters in N’Djamena.

During the command turnover, General Irabor claimed that the Army had taken 1400 suspected members of Boko Haram prisoner in recent months. At the same ceremony, Attahiru promised the opening of a divisional human rights desk where misconduct by officers and troops could be reported (Today [Lagos], May 30, 2017; Vanguard [Lagos], May 30, 2017).  Assertions of human rights abuses during the conflict in Borno have frequently impeded the progress of the military and may even have aided recruitment by Boko Haram.

Burning Villages, Operation Lafiya Dole

The first test of this new approach came days later, following a Boko Haram attack on the village of Ali Dawari (near Maiduguri) on June 7. Villagers fled the attack, but when they returned they claimed to have witnessed Nigerian troops (who had arrived in the meantime) loading their personal effects and foodstuffs onto three military trucks before setting fire to the village. Attahiru dismissed the entire incident: “No soldier would do such a thing. Our troops are guided by rules of engagement and they won’t descend to the level of doing what the people are alleging. On the contrary, the Boko Haram terrorists perpetrated such atrocities and not our troops” (Today [Lagos], June 13, 2017).

The Nigerian Army is processing selected Boko Haram detainees through “Operation Safe Corridor,” a de-radicalization and rehabilitation process designed to enable the former insurgents to “positively reorient their views about life and society in general.” [3] Few details of how this is accomplished are available.

The Shekau Resurgence

According to figures provided by General Attahiru, Boko Haram should now be in its death throes. On July 6, Attahiru told reporters that 404 terrorists had been killed and another 800 to 1000 captured in the last four months alone against a loss of 15 soldiers. However, the general also admitted to 97 suicide bombings and vehicle-borne bombings in the same time span (Today [Lagos], July 7; July 9, 2017).

Rather than disappearing, Shekau has made repeated video appearances in which he threatens his opponents – in March he insisted his movement would not stand down until it had been established in Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Mali (Premium Times [Lagos], March 17, 2017).

Abu Bakr Shekau (center)

On March 28, Nigerian defense minister Mansur Dan-Ali admitted that Shekau was still alive and justified the prolonged eight-year search for Shekau by noting: “It took America about seven to 10 years to get Bin Laden so we will get Shekau as soon as possible.” Following years of government claims that Shekau was dead, the minister now claimed that it was Boko Haram that was trying to give the impression he had been killed so the Army would relax its efforts (Daily Times [Lagos], March 29, 2017).

A 33-minute video released in June depicted Shekau describing an attack by his followers on a military outpost outside of Maiduguri while displaying ammunition and military gear seized in the assault. Shekau scorned the Army’s operations in the Sambisi forest, claiming his group had already moved to a site near Maiduguri and mocked the military’s repeated claims that he was either dead or replaced by a double: “So I’m alive. But if God wills that you will kill me, it is not surprising because many prophets of Allah were killed by infidels” (Today [Lagos], July 21, 2017).

The Boko Haram leader’s latest video, released on June 28, asserted “There is no way we Muslims in mosques and Christians in churches can work together. This has never happened before even during the life time of apostles and prophets.” According to Shekau, Nigeria’s constitution and democracy prevents any type of dialogue between Muslims and Christians. He issued a warning to Nigeria’s Muslim clerics that they were “playing with hell-fire” by “giving wrong interpretations of the Holy Quran” (Vanguard [Lagos], June 28).

Shekau also claimed credit for the Damboa road ambush a week earlier, saying ten policewomen had been captured who God had given to the insurgents to be their “slaves.” He ended his message by calling on Nigerians to “work for Islam, in accordance with the caliphate that was established by ‘Uthman Dan Fodio, which is a caliphate built upon truth and belief in God” (Vanguard [Lagos], June 28, 2017). Shekau’s reference was to the 19th century Sokoto Caliphate established by the Fulani Islamic scholar ‘Uthman Dan Fodio, a frequent ideological touchstone for jihadists operating in the Sahel.  The Caliphate was known for its reliance on slave labor – Shekau’s boast implies that a revival of slavery is part of the Islamists’ program.

Boko Haram vs. Oil Exploration

Though there are indeed fears that Boko Haram may be scattering; it appears to still have a strong hold on parts of the Sambisi forest, the group’s traditional refuge. On July 26, an Army statement announced that a lieutenant and nine soldiers of the Army’s 5th Brigade had been killed the day before after a convoy escorting Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) workers came under heavy fire in the forest from Boko Haram militants. A number of other soldiers were missing (Sahara Reporters, July 26, 2017). A statement by a Nigerian Army spokesman claimed that all NNPC staff had been rescued while troops were busy “neutralizing” terrorists and pursuing them “relentlessly.”

Two days later, more independent sources were reporting over 50 dead “with more bodies coming in.” The bodies of 18 soldiers and 30 others were brought back to Maidguri after the attack in an area near Lake Chad. Many of the civilians were members of the so-called “Civilian JTF,” a vigilante group that works alongside Nigerian military forces, though their amateur status often leads to heavy casualties in confrontations with the more experienced Boko Haram.

In contrast to the Army’s claim that all oil personnel had been rescued, Minister of State of Petroleum Resources Ibe Kachikwu told journalists that he could not confirm that any NNPC staff had been rescued (The Cable [Lagos], July 28, 2017). A day later, a video emerged of three kidnapped NNPC members in Boko Haram hands, begging the government to meet their captors’ demands. Their identities were confirmed by the Vice-Chancellor of Maiduguri University (to which they are attached) with the vice-chancellor also confirming the deaths of five other members of the university in the ambush (AFP, July 29, 2017).

The ambush was intended to disrupt oil exploration in the Borno region by targeting geological surveyors deployed there after having received assurances from the military that the region was now safe. Nigeria is looking to begin oil production in the northeast to relieve the pressure militants are putting on production in the Delta region, though the attack (so far attributed to al-Barnawi’s faction) demonstrates that the Army’s claims to have secured the region sufficiently to permit oil operations are largely illusionary.

Elsewhere, a video released by Boko Haram in early July showed members of the groups executing eight “apostates” who had defied the “Shari’a police” before cheering crowds. The video also showed other punishments inflicted by the group, including a stoning, a beheading, flogging and forced amputations (AFP, July 11, 2017).

Warnings that some elements of Boko Haram were relocating to the northern Nigerian city of Kano (the largest city of the former caliphate) appeared to be confirmed on July 23 when a well-equipped cell of five militants were arrested after a firefight there with Nigerian security forces. According to the Kano State police chief, the fighters had relocated to Kano from the Sambisi forest (AFP, July 24, 2017).

Nigerian Army Patrol, Operation Lafiya Dole

Boko Haram attacks intensified after the ill-advised release of a number of Boko Haram leaders from Nigerian prisons in May in exchange for the release of 82 of the “Chibok girls” kidnapped in 2014. The most common tactic used by Shekau’s group at present is road ambushes. Female suicide bombers are also still being deployed, though it is uncertain whether these originate with Shekau’s group or the Boko Haram faction led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi and Mamman al-Nur.

Conclusion

According to a Nigerian military memo, Boko Haram has begun re-occupying “Camp Zero,” their former main base in the Sambisi Forest. When the Nigerian Army took the base in December 2016, it was heralded as the beginning of the end for Boko Haram, and its capture continues to be frequently referred to in government and military statements as proof of the success of the campaign against the militants. However, the military appears to have withdrawn from the base in March, leaving it wide open to reoccupation by the Islamist gunmen (AFP, July 24, 2017).

There is one consistent aspect to the struggle in north-eastern Nigeria – the reality promulgated by Nigerian military spokesmen remains in conflict with the reality experienced by Nigerians in Borno State. Nigerian intelligence has had few successes in Borno, and with the military apparently unsure of whether Shekau is in Sambisi, Maiduguri or even Kano, it seems unrealistic to believe he will be apprehended “dead or alive” by the end of August. If the military did indeed have information regarding Shekau’s whereabouts, a more clandestine approach would seem to be called for. Instead, the Army has jeopardized the career of one of its leading officers by imposing a short and arbitrary date for the end of the hunt for Nigeria’s most elusive individual. That the order came with a public plea for information regarding Shekau’s whereabouts inspires little confidence.

Worst of all, there may actually be little encouragement behind the scenes to bring Shekau in alive or even at all. Continued destabilization of the north has been treated as a political advantage by many Nigerian politicians. [4] Even if Shekau (who needs only to remain hidden for a month to score a major propaganda coup) is somehow disposed of, the equally, if not stronger, al-Barnawi-Mamman al-Nur faction of Boko Haram will remain at large. Ultimately, the forty-day deadline appears to be little more than an ill-considered political publicity stunt carried out at the expense of a professional soldier.

Notes

  1. Nigerian Army Press Release, “Chief of Army Staff Gives Theatre Command Operation Lafiya Dole Deadline to Capture Abubakar Shekau,” July 22, 2017, http://www.army.mil.ng/chief-of-army-staff-gives-theatre-command-operation-lafiya-dole-deadline-to-capture-abubakar-shekau/
  2. For Operation Crocodile Smile, see: “Nigeria Expands Its ‘War on Terrorism’ to the Niger Delta,” Terrorism Monitor, September 16, 2016, http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=3719.
  3. Nigerian Army Press Release: “Boko Haram… 43 Surrendered Insurgents Air Lifted for De-Radicalization,” July 24, 2017, http://www.army.mil.ng/press-release-boko-haram-43-surrendered-insurgents-air-lifted-for-de-radicalization/
  4. For the political uses of Islamist violence in northern Nigeria, see: “Political Violence and Islamist Militancy become Entwined in Maiduguri Bombing,” January 25, 2014, http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=793.

The Fulani Crisis: Communal Violence and Radicalization in the Sahel

CTC Sentinel (Volume 10, Issue 2)

Combating Terrorism Center at West Point

February 22, 2017

Andrew McGregor (AIS)

Abstract: Alongside the Islamist struggle to reshape society in the Sahel through violent means is a second, relatively unnoticed but equally deadly conflict with the dangerous potential of merging with jihadi efforts. At a time when resources such as land and water are diminishing in the Sahel, semi-nomadic Muslim herders of the widespread Fulani ethnic group are increasingly turning to violence against settled Christian communities to preserve their herds and their way of life. Claims of “genocide” and “forced Islamization” have become common in the region. What is primarily an economic struggle has already taken on an ethnic and religious character in Mali. If Nigeria follows the same path, it is possible that a new civil war could erupt with devastating consequences for all of West Africa. 

The Fulani,a an estimated 25 million people, range across 21 African countries from Mauritania’s Atlantic coast to the Red Sea coast in Sudan, though their greatest concentration is found in West Africa’s Sahel region.b The Fulani speak a common language (known as Fulfulde or Pulaar) but, due to their wide geographical range, are known by several other names in their host communities, including Fulbe, Fula, Peul, Peulh, and Fellata. Virtually all are Muslim. Roughly a third of the Fulani continue to follow a traditional semi-nomadic, cattle-rearing lifestyle that increasingly brings them into conflict with settled agriculturalists at a time of increased pressure on resources such as pastureland and water. They are typically armed to protect their herds from rustlers, wild animals, and other threats, and in recent years, the ubiquitous AK-47 has replaced the more common machete as the weapon of choice.

  • The Fulani in the Sahel (Rowan Technology)

The Fulani began building states in the 18th century by mounting jihads against non-Islamic rulers in existing states in the Guinea-Senegal region. A Fulani Islamic scholar, ‘Uthman Dan Fodio, recruited Fulani nomads into a jihad that overthrew the Muslim Hausa Amirs of the Sahel and attacked the non-Muslim tribes of the region in the first decade of the 19th century, forming a new kingdom in the process—the Sokoto Caliphate. Following Dan Fodio’s Islamic revolution, a whole series of new Islamic Emirates emerged in the Sahel under the Sokoto Caliphate, which fell to the British in 1903. There are accusations within Nigeria’s legislatures that the current Fulani-associated violence is simply the continuation of Dan Fodio’s jihad, an attempt to complete the Islamization of Nigeria’s middle belt and eventually its oil-rich south.1

Nomadic patterns and a significant degree of cultural variation due to their broad range in Africa have worked against the development of any central leadership among the Fulani. Traditional Fulani regard any occupation other than herding as socially inferior, though millions now pursue a wide range of occupations in West Africa’s urban centers.

Herdsmen vs. Farmers

Traditionally, Fulani herders would bring their cattle south during the post-harvest period to feed on crop residues and fertilize the land. Recently, however, environmental pressures related to climate change and growing competition for limited resources such as water and grazing land are driving herders and their cattle into agricultural areas year round, where they destroy crops.2 More importantly, the herders are now entering regions they have never traveled through before. The growth of agro-pastoralism, where farmers maintain their own cattle, and the expansion of farms into the traditional corridors used by the herders have contributed to the problem. The resulting violence is equal in both number and ferocity to that inflicted by Boko Haram’s insurgency3 c but has attracted little attention beyond the Sahel, in part because it is treated as a local issue.

Confrontations over damaged crops are typically followed by armed herders responding to the farmers’ anger with violence, inevitably leading to reprisal attacks on herding camps by farming communities. Traditional conflict resolution systems involving compensation and mediation have broken down, partly because new waves of herdsmen have no ties to local communities.d The Fulani, in turn, accuse their host communities of cattle rustling (theft) and therefore regard punitive violence against these communities as just and appropriate. The Fulani herders complain that they are otherwise faced with the choice of returning to lands that cannot sustain them or abandoning their lifestyle by selling their cattle and moving to the cities.4

With little protection offered by state security services against the incessant violence, many farmers have begun abandoning their plots to seek safety elsewhere, leading to food shortages, depopulation of fertile land, and further damage to an already fragile economy. Some see no future in negotiations: “We are calling on the state government to evacuate [the herders] from our land because they are not friendly; they are very harmful to us. We are not ready to bargain with them to prolong their stay here.”5 Others have registered puzzlement that relations with “people who have always been around” (i.e. the herders) could have deteriorated so dramatically.6

Nigeria’s Military Option

In late October 2016, Nigerian Defense Ministry spokesman Brigadier General Rabe Abubakar declared Boko Haram “100% defeated” and announced the launch of “Operation Accord,” a military campaign to “take care of the nuisance of the Fulani herdsmen once and for all.” 7 e Unfortunately, no mention was made of what kind of tactics would be employed to prevent ethnic nationalism and religious radicalism from further taking hold in the Fulani community.

Nigeria (Rowan Technology)

A common complaint from victims of Fulani violence is that help from security services rarely materializes despite their assurances that security is a top priority. This has led to the formation of anti-Fulani vigilante groups (some inspired by Borno State’s anti-Boko Haram “Civilian JTF”) that have few means and little inclination to sort out “bad” herders from “good.” Existing vigilante groups tend to have poor coordination with police services, perhaps deliberately in some cases due to suspicion that the security services sympathize with the herdsmen.8 Earlier this year, the United Nations stated advance warnings of the April 2016 attack in Enugu State that killed 40 people had been ignored and noted that perpetrators of earlier attacks appeared to enjoy “complete immunity,” which encouraged threatened communities to “take justice into their own hands.”f

In Zamfara State, rural communities have complained of Fulani herdsmen committing murder, gang-rapes, destruction of property, and massive thefts of livestock while security services do nothing. Reprisals are now organized by a Hausa vigilante group named Yan Sakai. Though banned by the government, Yan Sakai continues to operate, escalating the violence through illegal arrests and summary executions.9

Delta State’s former commissioner of police Ikechukwu Aduba expressed exasperation with the growing crisis: “The problem is how do we contain [the herdsmen], especially with their peculiar mode of operation? The way these people operate is amazing. They will strike within five and six minutes and disappear… there is no way the police can be everywhere at the same time.”10 Difficult terrain and poor communications complicate the matter, but the continued inability of the state to provide a reasonable degree of security damages public trust in authority and encourages an armed response in previously peaceful communities.

One claim that has gained traction among leaders of the Igbo (a large ethnic group with an estimated population of 30 million people in southern Nigeria) is that the country’s president, Muhammadu Buhari (a Fulani), is pursuing the Islamization of Nigeria by allowing Fulani herdsmen to murder Christians.11 These claims were rejected on October 10, 2016, by the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III, a Fulani and one of Nigeria’s leading Islamic authorities: “The problem with herdsmen and farmers is purely about economy. The herdsman wants food for his cattle; the farmer wants his farm produce to feed his family.”12 There have been calls for the sultan to make a personal intervention, appealing to the Fulani’s respect for “true leaders and their traditional institutions.”13 The sultan, however, like the cattle associations representing the herders, claims that those involved in the violence are “foreign terrorists … the Nigerian herdsmen are very peace-loving and law-abiding.”14

Solutions?

Herders cannot simply be outlawed. Despite the violence, they continue to supply the Sahel’s markets with meat. Grazing reserves have been proposed as a solution, but since these are seen as a government transfer of land to commercial livestock operations, they are unpopular. Fulani herders often object that such reserves are inaccessible or already in use by other herders. In May 2016, some 350 federal and state legislators declared they would resist any attempt by the federal government to take land by force for use as grazing reserves. Others have argued that ranching on fenced private lands (preferably in the north, where ethnic and religious tensions are diminished) is the only solution for Nigeria, where questions of land ownership remain politically charged.15 Nonetheless, 10 Nigerian states moved ahead in August 2016 with allocating grazing lands to the herdsmen.16

Ranching would improve yields of meat and milk, both of which suffer from nomadic grazing. (Most of Nigeria’s milk is now imported from the Netherlands.) According to House of Representatives minority leader Leo Ogor, “The solution lies in coming up with legislation that will criminalise grazing outside the ranches.”17 Governor of Benue State Samuel Ortom has said, “If we can copy the presidential system from America, why can’t we copy ranching? But, you see, it is a gradual process and cannot be done overnight.”18

Street Violence in South Kaduna

Christians in Nigeria’s Kaduna State complaining of daily kidnappings, killings, and rapes committed by herders have described the large Ladugga grazing reserve as an “incubator” for “all sorts of criminals that are responsible for the misfortune that has come to stay with us.”19 An editorial in a major Nigerian daily described the reserves as “a decoy” for Fulani herders to overrun and seize land from “unsuspecting natives.” “It is incomprehensible how anyone expects the entire country to have grazing reserves carved out for Fulani herdsmen … what else is the motive behind this adventure if it is not to grab land and have strategic power?”20

Three federal bills trying to establish grazing reserves and control of herd movement were dropped by Nigeria’s senate last November after it was ruled such legislation must be enacted at the state level. This will likely result in a patchwork of efforts, however, to solve a problem that is, by its very nature, unconfined by state or national borders.21

In Ghana, joint military/police task-forces have been deployed to evict Fulani herdsmen from regions affected by communal violence.22 Many of the herdsmen are from Burkina Faso where pastureland has receded. To deal with what has been described as “a national security issue due to the crimes associated with the activities of the nomads,” Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama announced that veterinary services and 10,000 hectares of land would be provided to the herdsmen to discourage violent clashes with farmers.23 The measure falls short of the ranching laws that have been promised since 2012 but have yet to be implemented.24

Dr. Joachim Ezeji, an Abuja, Nigeria-based water management expert, attributes the violence to poor water management practices in Nigeria that are “not robust enough to cope with the impacts of climate change,” suggesting soil restoration, reforestation, and the expansion of terrace-farming could aid the currently unproductive, sloping land.25

Nigeria: Economic Struggle or Religious Conquest?

In early 2016, the streets of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, began filling with Fulani herders and their livestock, snarling traffic and prompting fights between herders and beleaguered motorists. A ban on grazing in the federal capital had been widely ignored, and in October 2016, authorities began arresting herders and impounding their livestock.26 The local government has obtained over 33,000 hectares of land as an alternative to grazing in the streets of the capital.27

The Nigerian capital, however, has yet to experience the herdsmen-related violence that continues to afflict the following regions:

Northwest (primarily Muslim): Kaduna and Zamfara States

Middle Belt (ethnically heterogeneous and religiously mixed): Nasarawa, Taraba, Benue, Plateau, Adamawa, and Niger States

South (primarily Christian and Animist): Ebonyi, Abia, Edo, Delta, and Enugu States

At times, Fulani gunmen have shown no fear of attacking senior officials. On his way to visit a displaced persons’ camp in April 2014, former Benue governor Gabriel Suswam’s convoy was ambushed by suspected Fulani herders who engaged the governor’s security detail in a one-hour gun-battle. Afterwards, Suswam told the IDPs:

This is beyond the herdsmen; this is real war … so, if the security agents, especially the military, cannot provide security for us, we will defend ourselves … these Fulani are not like the real Fulani we used to know. Please return to your homes and defend your land; do not allow anybody to make you slaves in your homeland.28

The Ekiti State’s Yorubag governor, Ayodele Fayose, has implemented laws designed to control the movements of the Fulani herdsmen, much to their displeasure. A statement from the Mayetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN, a national group representing the interests of Fulani herders) suggesting that the new laws could “develop into [an] unquenchable inferno … capable of creating uncontrollable scenarios” was interpreted by local Yoruba as “a terror threat.”29 The governor described the federal government’s failure to arrest those responsible for the MACBAN statement as proof of a plot “to provide tacit support” to the herdsmen.30 With clashes threatening to deteriorate into ethnic warfare, Fayose called on Ekiti citizens to defend their land against “these Philistines” whose character is marked by “extremism, violence, bloodshed, and destruction.”31

Some senior Christian clergy have alleged the influx of Muslim herders is a scheme by hard-pressed Boko Haram leaders “to deliberately populate areas with Muslims and, by the sheer weight of superior numbers, influence political decision-making.”32 After herders killed 20 people and burned the community of Gogogodo (Kaduna State) on October 15, 2016, a local pastor described the incident in religious terms. “This is a jihad. It is an Islamic holy war against Christians in the southern part of Kaduna state.” Another said that like Boko Haram, the Fulani had a clear agenda “to wipe out the Christian presence and take over the land.”33 As many as 14 Fulani were hacked to death in retaliatory attacks.34

In late February 2016, alleged herders reportedly massacred over 300 Idoma Christians in Agatu (Benue State). A retaliatory attack on a Fulani camp across the border in Nasarawa State on April 30 killed 20 herdsmen and 83 cows.35 After the killings, Nigeria’s senate moved a motion suggesting attacks attributed to Fulani herdsmen were actually “a change in tactics” by Boko Haram. This view was roundly rejected by Benue State representatives in the House of Representatives, who castigated the president for his silence on the attacks. According to the leader of the Benue caucus, the incidents were an “unfolding genocide in Benue State by Fulani herdsmen, a genocide that, typical of the Nigerian state, has been downplayed or ignored until it spirals out of control.”36

However, it is not only Nigeria’s farming communities that complain of “genocide.” For Nigeria’s Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), attacks on “innocent Fulani” by vigilantes, rustlers, and security forces constitute an effort to eliminate Islam in Nigeria:

The Nigerian Muslim community as a stakeholder in nation-building is also aware of the symbiotic relationship between the Fulani and the religion of Islam and, by extension, the Muslim Ummah of Nigeria. Any hostile act against the Fulani is therefore an indirect attack on Muslims. Genocide aimed at the Fulani is indubitably mass killing of Muslims. It is war against Islam.37

Fulani Herdsman (Judith Caleb)

There were further attacks in Benue allegedly by Fulani herdsmen in late April 2016. A local Fulani ardo (community leader), Boderi Adamu, said that the attackers were not Fulani—he “heard people say they were foreigners”—but insisted that the Nigerian constitution provided free movement for all citizens within its borders, “so they cannot continue to stop us from finding pastures for our cows.”38 However, as one Nigerian commentator observed, while “the constitution grants free movement to all its citizens, it does not grant free movement to hordes of animals with those citizens … cows cannot overrun a whole country. It is unacceptable.”39 Despite a January 6, 2017, agreement between Fulani herdsmen and the majority Christian Agatu community in Benue State, violence erupted again on January 24 with 13 villagers and two herdsmen killed during an attack by Fulani herders.40

Ties to Boko Haram?

It is possible that some of those participating in the attacks on farming communities in Nigeria are former members of Boko Haram who trade in violence, but coordination with the group itself is unlikely. Boko Haram is dominated by Kanuri rather than Fulani, and the rights of cattle-herders have not figured prominently in the group’s Islamist agenda.

There are other differences from Nigeria’s Boko Haram rebellion:

  • Though many Boko Haram members are ethnic Kanuri, the Boko Haram insurrection never took on an ethnic character, and the movement’s leadership has never claimed one.
  • Boko Haram’s identity and aims center on religion. The Fulani herders’ main concern is with access to grazing land, although they are susceptible to religious agitation.
  • Boko Haram’s enemy (despite leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi’s recent calls for attacks on Christians) has always been the state. Armed Fulani groups generally avoid confrontations with the state.
  • Like most insurgent movements, Boko Haram has a central leadership that is generally identifiable despite the movement’s best efforts to keep details murky. There is no guiding individual or committee behind the violence associated with the Fulani herders.

Transition to Jihad: The Case of Mali

A significant concern is posed by the possibility that Nigeria might follow the pattern of Mali. There, young Fulani herdsmen have been recruited into jihadi movements, a break from the Fulani community’s traditional support of the Bamako government as a balance to Tuareg and Arab power in northern Mali.41

Unlike other parts of the Sahel, there is a long tradition of Fulani “self-defense” militias in northern and central Mali. Known as Ganda Koy and Ganda Iso, these groups were generally pro-government in orientation but clashed repeatedly since 1990 with both separatist and loyalist Tuareg groups over land and access to water.

Some Fulani from central Mali and northern Niger joined the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) during the Islamist takeover of northern Mali in 2012.42 Since France’s Operation Serval in 2013 expelled most of the Islamists from the region, Fulani in the Mopti and Segou regions have experienced retaliatory violence and abuse from both the Malian military (including torture and summary executions) and Fulani jihadis who want to deter their brethren from cooperating with the Malian state, U.N. peacekeepers, or French troops.43 The national army, the Forces Armées Maliennes (FAMA), are allegedly replicating the human rights abuses (arbitrary detention, torture, extrajudicial killings) that helped inspire rebellion in northern Mali.44 According to one Fulani chief, “Our people don’t associate the state with security and services, but rather with predatory behavior and negligence.”45

After Operation Serval, many of the Fulani jihadis drifted into the Front de libération du Macina (FLM, aka Katiba Macina or Ansar al-Din Macina), a largely Fulani jihadi movement led by salafi preacher and Malian national Hamadoun Koufa. Based in the Mopti region in central Mali, the group takes its name from a 19th-century Fulani state. The Islamists spur recruitment by reminding young Fulanis that their traditional leadership has been unable to defend their people from Tuareg attacks or cattle-rustling, according to the author’s research. The movement became formally allied with Ansar al-Din on May 19, 2016, but split off from Iyad Ag Ghali’s mostly Tuareg jihadi movement in early 2017 due to ethnic tensions, Hamadoun Koufa’s dalliance with the rival Islamic State movement, and the FLM’s failure to provide military support for Ansar al-Din.46 Reports suggest that FLM leader Hamadoun Koufa has been engaged in discussions with the leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui, regarding the creation of a new Fulani caliphate with Islamic State support.47

An unknown number of Fulani appear to have joined Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s al-Murabitun movement. The group claimed that its January 17, 2017, suicide car-bomb attack that killed 77 members of the Malian Army and the Coordination of Azawad Movements coalition was carried out by a Fulani fighter, Abd al-Hadi al-Fulani.48 The attack followed similar suicide attacks by Fulani jihadis. Though there was some confusion created by rival claims of responsibility for the November 20, 2015, attack on Bamako’s Radisson Blu hotel from al-Murabitun and the FLM (allegedly in concert with Ansar al-Din), al-Murabitun maintained the attack was carried out by two Fulani jihadis.49 A Fulani individual was also named as one of three men who carried out the January 15, 2016, attack on the Splendid Hotel and Cappuccino Café in the Burkina Faso capital of Ouagadougou, providing further proof of the growing attraction of jihad among some members of the Fulani community.50

Another militant Fulani group, formed in June 2016, is the “Alliance nationale pour la sauvegarde de l’identité peule et la restauration de la justice” (ANSIPRJ). Its leader, Oumar al-Janah, describes ANSPIRJ as a self-defense militia that will aggressively defend the rights of Fulani/Peul herding communities in Mali while being neither jihadi nor separatist in its ideology. ANSPIRJ deputy leader, Sidi Bakaye Cissé, claims that Mali’s military treats all Fulani as jihadis. “We are far from being extremists, let alone puppets in the hands of armed movements.”51 In reality, al-Janah’s salafi movement is closely aligned with the jihadi Ansar al-Din movement and participated in a coordinated attack with that group on a Malian military base at Nampala on July 19, 2016, that killed 17 soldiers and wounded 35.52 ANSPIRJ’s Fulani military emir, Mahmoud Barry (aka Abu Yehiya), was arrested near Nampala on July 27.53

Fulani groups that have maintained their distance from jihadis in Mali include:

The Mouvement pour la défense de la patrie (MDP), led by Hama Founé Diallo, a veteran of Charles Taylor’s forces in the Liberian Civil War and briefly a member of the rebel Mouvement National de Libération de L’Azawad (MNLA) in 2012. The MDP joined the peace process in June 2016 by allying itself with the pro-government Platforme coalition.54 Diallo says he wants to teach the Fulani to use arms to defend themselves while steering them away from the attraction of jihad.55

“The Coordination des mouvements et fronts patriotiques de résistance” (CMFPR) has split into pro- and anti-government factions since its formation in July 2012.56 Originally an assembly of self-defense movements made up of Fulani and Songhaï in the Gao and Mopti regions, both factions have many former Ganda Koy and Ganda Iso members.57 The pro-government Platforme faction is led by Harouna Toureh; the split-off faction is led by Ibrahim Abba Kantao, head of the Ganda Iso movement, and is part of the separatist Coordination des mouvements de l’Azawad (CMA) coalition formed in June 2014. While Kantao appears to favor the separatism of Azawad, he is closer to the secular MNLA than the region’s jihadis.58

Conclusion

In highly militarized northern Mali, Fulani gunmen have begun to form organized terrorist or ‘self-defense’ organizations along established local patterns. If this became common elsewhere, it would remove community decision-making from locally based “cattle associations” and hand it to less representative militant groups with agendas that do not necessarily address the concerns of the larger community. In this case, the Fulani crisis could become intractable, with escalating consequences for West Africa.

In Nigeria, the state is not absent, as in northern and central Mali, but it is unresponsive. A common thread through all the attacks alleged to be the work of Fulani herdsmen, rustlers, or vigilante groups is the condemnation of state inaction by victims in the face of violence. This unresponsiveness breeds suspicion of collusion and hidden motives, weakening the state’s already diminished authority, particularly as even elected officials urge communities to take up arms in self-defense.

There continues to be room for negotiated solutions, but attempts to radicalize Muslim herders will quickly narrow the room for new options. Transforming an economic dispute into a religious or ethnic war has the potential of destroying the social structure and future prosperity of any nation where this scenario takes hold. For Islamist militants, the Fulani represent an enormous potential pool of armed, highly mobile fighters with intimate knowledge of local terrain and routes. In Nigeria, a nation whose unity and physical integrity is already facing severe challenges from northern jihadis and southern separatists, mutual distrust inspired by communal conflict has the potential to contribute to the outbreak of another civil war in Nigeria between northern Muslims and southern Christians and Animists.

Is the violence really due to “foreign terrorists,” “Boko Haram operatives,” and local gangsters posing as Fulani herdsmen? All are possible, to a degree, but none of these theories is supported by evidence at this point, and any combination of these is unlikely to be completely responsible for the onslaught of violence experienced in the Sahel. What is certain is that previously cooperative groups are now clashing despite the danger this poses to both farmers and herdsmen. The struggle for land and water has already degenerated into ethnic conflict in some places and is increasingly seen, dangerously, in religious terms by elements of Christian Nigeria. There is a real danger that this conflict could be hijacked by Islamist extremists dwelling on “Fulani persecution” while promoting salafi-jihadism as a radical solution.     CTC

Dr. Andrew McGregor is the director of Aberfoyle International Security, a Toronto-based agency specializing in the analysis of security issues in Africa and the Islamic world. 

Substantive Notes

[a] This article is based on primary sources from West African media as well as environmental and anthropological studies of the region.

[b] The Fulani/Peul are found in Nigeria, Benin, Egypt, Liberia, Mauritania, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Togo, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, Mali, the Gambia, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, Chad, and the Central African Republic.

[c] Boko Haram (a nickname for the group whose full name was Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wa’l-Jihad – People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad) changed its official name in April 2015 to Islamic State – Wilayat West Africa after pledging allegiance to the Islamic State movement. The West African Wilayat split into two groups after Islamic State leaders took the unusual step of removing Wilayat leader Abubakr Shekau. Shekau refused his dismissal and now competes with the “official” Wilayat West Africa led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi. “Boko Haram” continues to have wide popular usage for both factions. For more, see Jason Warner, “Sub-Saharan Africa’s Three New Islamic State Affiliates,” CTC Sentinel 10:1 (2017).

[d] This is based on the author’s own observations of developments in the Sahel over the past 20 years.

[e] One source declared the remarks were those of Chief of Defence Staff General Abayomi Olonishakin and were merely delivered by Brigadier Abubakar. See “Boko Haram is Gone Forever – CDS,” Today [Lagos], October 29, 2016.

[f] Though 40 was the number reported in Nigerian media, VOA gave a figure of 15 based on official police reports. See Chris Stein, “Farmer-Herder Conflict Rises across Nigeria,” VOA News, May 11, 2016, and United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, “Press briefing note on Mozambique and Nigeria,” April 29, 2016.

[g] The Yoruba are a West African ethnic group found primarily in southwestern Nigeria and southeastern Benin (“Yorubaland”). The Yoruba are roughly equally divided between Christianity and Islam, with some 10 percent remaining adherents of traditional Yoruba religious traditions. Religious syncretism runs strong in the Yoruba community, inspiring local religious variations such as “Chrislam” and the Aladura movement, which combines Christianity with traditional beliefs. Protestant Pentecostalism, with its emphasis on direct experience of God and the role of the Holy Spirit, is especially popular in many Yoruba communities.

Citations

[1] Taye Obateru, “Plateau Massacre: We did it – Boko Haram; It’s a lie — Police,” Vanguard, July 11, 2012.

[2] Olakunie Michael Folami, “Climate Change and Inter-ethnic Conflict between Fulani Herdsmen and Host Communities in Nigeria,” paper presented at the Conference on Climate Change and Security, Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, Trondiem, Norway, 2010.

[3] Yomi Kazeem, “Nigeria now has a bigger internal security threat than Boko Haram,” Quartz Africa, January 19, 2017.

[4] Muhammed Sabiu, “At the mercy of cow rustlers: Sad tales of Zamfara cattle rearers,” Nigerian Tribune, February 2, 2014.

[5] “Delta community women protest Fulani herdsmen’s invasion,” Vanguard, October 25, 2016.

[6] “Herdsmen attacks sponsored by politicians, says APC chieftain,” Vanguard, August 30, 2016.

[7] “Nigerian Military to launch operation against violent herdsmen,” News Agency of Nigeria, October 29, 2016; Akinyemi Akinrujomu, “Military begins plans to tackle Fulani herdsmen menace,” Naij.com, October 28, 2016; “Military to launch operation against Fulani herdsmen,” The Nation Online [Lagos], October 30, 2016.

[8] Francis Igata, “I alerted security operatives before Fulani herdsmen attack, says Ugwuanyi,” Vanguard, April 30, 2016; “The New Terror Threat,” This Day [Lagos], May 2, 2016; Ibanga Isine, “Interview: Benue ‘completely under siege by Fulani herdsmen’ – Governor Ortom, Premium Times [Abuja], October 3, 2016.

[9] Shehu Umar, “Violent crimes sparking Hausa vs. Fulani clashes in Zamfara,” Daily Trust, October 15, 2016.

[10] Evelyn Usman, “Menace of Fulani herdsmen: A nightmare to police too,” Vanguard, February 27, 2016.

[11] “Buhari’s islamization agenda is real, he is implementing it gradually – Igbo Leaders,” Daily Post [Lagos], October 6, 2016.

[12] Danielle Ogbeche, “Stop making noise about Fulani herdsmen, Islamization – Sultan of Sokoto,” Daily Post [Lagos], October 11, 2016; Jasmine Buari, “Sultan of Sokoto speaks on the herdsmen-farmers conflict,” Naij.com, October 10, 2016.

[13] Sale Bayari, “Herdsmen vs the Military – Don’t Use Force,” Daily Trust, November 2, 2016.

[14] “Fulani herdsmen moving with guns are foreign terrorists, says Sultan,” Vanguard, September 12, 2016.

[15] Moses E. Ochonu, “The Fulani herdsmen threat to Nigeria’s fragile unity,” Vanguard, March 18, 2016.

[16] Joshua Sani, “10 States allocate grazing lands to herdsmen,” Today [Lagos], August 24, 2016.

[17] John Ameh, Femi Atoyebi, Sunday Aborisade, Kamarudeen Ogundele, Jude Owuamanam, Mudiaga Affe, Femi Makinde, Gibson Achonu, and Peter Dada, “N940m grazing reserves for herdsmen: Lawmakers fault Buhari,” Punch, May 21, 2016.

[18] Seun Opejobi, “Just like farmers; Fulani herdsmen have the right to live,” Daily Post [Lagos], November 1, 2016.

[19] Paul Obi, “Southern Kaduna Cries Out Over Fulani Persecution,” This Day [Lagos], October 11, 2016.

[20] “The Mission of Fulani Herdsmen,” Guardian [Lagos], October 30, 2016).

[21] Omololu Ogunmade, “Senate Rejects Grazing Reserve Bill, Says It’s Unconstitutional,” This Day [Lagos], November 10, 2016.

[22] Ebenezer Afanyi Dadzie, “Joint police-military team storm Agogo to flush out Fulanis,” Citifmonline.com, February 4, 2016.

[23] “Fulani menace will be fixed permanently – Mahama,” GhanaWeb, November 1, 2016.

[24] “Politicians overlook ranching law,” GhanaWeb, October 28, 2016.

[25] Senator Iroegbu, “Expert Proffers Solution to Fulani Herdsmen, Farmers Clashes,” This Day [Lagos], July 9, 2016.

[26] “War against Grazing: FCTA Prosecutes 16 Fulani Herdsmen, Impounds 32 Cattle, 38 Sheep,” The Whistler [Lagos], October 14, 2016.

[27] Ebuka Onyeji, “Abuja Administration Bans Movement of Cattle on Public Roads,” Premium Times, October 25, 2016.

[28] Olu Ojewale, “The Menace of Fulani Herdsmen,” Realnewsmagazine.net, April 7, 2014.

[29] Eromosele Ebhomele, “ARG warns Fulani herdsmen for threatening Ekiti people,” Naij.com, October 25, 2016.

[30] Eromosele Ebhomele, “Fayose urges Ekiti people to prepare for war against herdsmen,” Naij.com, October 26, 2016; Alo Abiola, “Fayose Holds Meeting with Herdsmen, Says No Grudge against Fulani,” Leadership [Abuja], November 2, 2016; Dayin Adebusuyi, “Farmers, Herders to be Grazing Law Enforcement Marshals,” Daily Trust, November 2, 2016.

[31] Eromosele Ebhomele, “Fayose urges Ekiti people to prepare for war against herdsmen,” Naij.com, October 26, 2016.

[32] Richard Ducayne, “Bishop Warns: Boko Haram Enlisting Herders as Fighters,” ChurchMilitant.com, August 10, 2016.

[33] Amy Furr, “Muslim Fulani Herdsmen Slaughter Dozens of Christians in Nigerian Village,” CSN News, October 27, 2016.

[34] “Mob attacks, burn 14 Fulani herdsmen in Kaduna,” Vanguard, October 17, 2016.

[35] Adams Abonu, “The Agatu Massacre,” This Day [Lagos], April 4, 2016; Omotayo Yusuf, “20 herdsmen killed, 83 cows slaughtered in Nasarawa,” NAIJ.com, May 2, 2016.

[36] Musa Abdullahi Kirishi, “National Assembly and price of rhetorics over Agatu,” Daily Trust, March 22, 2016; Emman Ovuakporie and Johnbosco Agbakwuru, “Agatu genocide: Benue lawmakers slam Buhari,” Vanguard, March 19, 2016.

[37] Abbas Jimoh, “Muslim rights group alleges genocide against Fulanis,” Daily Trust, April 22, 2014.

[38] Tony Adibe, Hope Abah, Andrew Agbese, and Adama Dickson, “‘115 Grazing Reserves in Nigeria Taken Over’ – Miyetti Allah,” Daily Trust, May 8, 2016.

[39] Tope Fasua, “Da Allah, cows are not Nigerian citizens,” Daily Trust, May 15, 2016.

[40] “Herdsmen deadly attacks stalled Agatu’s constituency projects, says lawmaker,” Pulse News Agency, February 1, 2017; Petet Duru, “Benue farmers/Fulani herdmen renewed clash claims 15 lives,” Vanguard, January 24, 2017; Hembadoon Orsar, “Many Feared Dead in Fresh Herdsmen Attack on Benue Village,” Leadership [Abuja], January 24, 2017.

[41] For Mali’s armed groups, see Andrew McGregor, “Anarchy in Azawad: A Guide to Non-State Armed Groups in Northern Mali,” Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor, January 25, 2017.

[42] Yvan Guichaoua, “Mali-Niger: une frontière entre conflits communautaires, rébellion et djihad,” Le Monde, June 20, 2016.

[43] “Mali: Abuses Spread South: Islamist Armed Groups’ Atrocities, Army Responses Generate Fear,” Human Rights Watch, February 19, 2016.

[44] “Violence in northern Mali causing a human rights crisis,” Amnesty International, February 16, 2012.

[45] “Mali: Abuses Spread South: Islamist Armed Groups’ Atrocities, Army Responses Generate Fear.”

[46] Ibrahim Keita, “Mali: Iyad Ag Ghaly affaibli, abandonné par Amadou Koufa!” MaliActu, January 7, 2017; O. Kouaré, “Mali: Amadou Kouffa; pourquoi il a trahi Iyad Ag Ghaly,” MaliActu, January 20, 2017.

[47] Idrissa Khalou, “Mali: Amadou Kouffa et l’Etat Islamique: ‘Creuse un trou pour ton ennemi, mais pas trop profond, on ne sait jamais,’” MaliActu, January 6, 2017; Boubacar Samba, “Mali: L’Etat Islamique du Macina,” MaliActu, January 7, 2017. 

[48] “Al-Mourabitoune dévoile l’auteur de l’attaque de Gao,” al-Akhbar, January 18, 2017.

[49] “Mali: Al-Mourabitoune diffuse une photo des assaillants du Radisson,” RFI, December 7, 2015.

[50] “Al Qaeda names fighters behind attack on Burkina capital,” BBC, January 18, 2016; Morgane Le Cam, “Un an après l’attentat de Ouagadougou, le point sur l’enquête,” Le Monde, January 16, 2017. See also Andrew Lebovich, “The Hotel Attacks and Militant Realignment in the Sahara-Sahel Region,” CTC Sentinel 9:1 (2016).

[51] Mohamed Abdellaoui and Mohamed Ag Ahmedou, “Les Peuls, un peuple sans frontières qui accentue l’embrouillamini au Sahel,” Anadolu Agency, April 7, 2016.

[52] Alpha Mahamane Cissé, “Attaque d’un camp militaire dans le centre du Mali, revendiquée par un mouvement peul,” Mali Actu/AFP, July 19, 2016; “Mali: un mouvement peul revendique l’attaque contre un camp militaire à Nampala,” Jeune Afrique/AFP, July 19, 2016.

[53] “Mali arrests senior jihadist blamed for military base attack,” AFP, July 27, 2016.

[54] Adam Thiam, “Hama Founé Diallo: Itinéraire d’un rebelle peulh,” Le Républicain, June 27, 2016; Kassoum Thera, “Mali: La plateforme des mouvements d’autodéfense s’enrichit d’une adhésion de taille: Les vérités amères du président de la Haute cour de justice,” Aujourd’hui-Mali, July 2, 2016.

[55] Rémi Carayol, “Mali: Hama Foune Diallo, mercenaire du delta,” Jeune Afrique, July 18, 2016.

[56] Amadou Carara, “Changement à la tête de la CMFPR: Kantao remplace Me Harouna Toureh,” 22 Septembre, January 30, 2014.

[57] Ibrahim Maïga, “Armed Groups in Mali: Beyond the Labels,” West Africa Report 17, Institute for Security Studies, June 2016.

[58] Youssouf Diallo, “Mali: Le président de la CMFPR2, Ibrahima Kantao, justifie son alliance avec le Mnla: ‘Pour la paix, nous sommes prêts à nous allier avec le diable,’” 22 Septembre, December 29, 2014.

Choosing a Figurehead over a Fanatic: A Profile of Abu Musab al-Barnawi, the New Leader of the Islamic State in West Africa

Andrew McGregor

August 31, 2016

al-barnawiAbu Musab al-Barnawi (Breaking Times)

Though it might be difficult to conceive, there are apparently limits to the degree of barbarity the Islamic State organization is willing to tolerate in its regional leaders. On August 2, the Islamic State took the unusual step of intervening in the leadership of Nigeria’s Boko Haram to remove its long-time leader, Abu Bakr Shekau, who fell foul with the movement through his erratic behavior, military failures and willingness to slaughter the same Muslim civilians the Islamic State is trying to win over. The appointment of his successor, a relatively unknown 25-year-old named Abu Musab Habib bin Muhammad bin Yusuf al-Barnawi (a.k.a. Habib Yusuf), has been challenged by Shekau, though he has yet to break publicly with the Islamic State.

Prospects of a clash between what is now two factions of Boko Haram were diminished on August 23, when Nigeria’s military announced it had made a massive airstrike on Boko Haram positions in the Sambisi Forest on August 19, killing 300 fighters (an unlikely figure) and “fatally wounding” Abu Bakr Shekau (Sahara Reporters, August 23). While no confirmation of the strike or Boko Haram losses was available, it is the fourth time Nigerian authorities claimed to have killed Shekau.

Early Career of Abu Musab al-Barnawi

Abu Musab is allegedly the first or second son of Boko Haram founder Muhammad Yusuf, who was killed while in police detention in 2009 (UPI, August 5). Daily Trust [Abuja], August 6, CNN, August 4 (SaharaReporters.com, August 3). The fatherless youth was tutored in militancy by Shekau and Boko Haram third-in-command Mamman Nur and is alleged to have a solid background in Islamic scriptural interpretation and jurisprudence (Daily Trust [Lagos], August 6). However, differences between Shekau and Nur led to the latter leaving the movement to join a group with similar goals but different methods, Ansaru. [1] Abu Musab stayed with Shekau until the Boko Haram leader joined forces once again with Nur in the West African wilayat (province) of the Islamic State’s caliphate, formed on March 5, 2015 as the intended successor to the Boko Haram group. This process brought Shekau under someone else’s authority for the first time, though the Boko Haram leader evidently believed distance and remoteness from Islamic State “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his cadres would allow him to carry on in the ways familiar to him.

Abu Musab means “Father of Musab,” and refers to the new Boko Haram leader’s seven-year-old son (Daily Trust [Lagos], August 6). “Al-Barnawi” is simply a nisba, indicating the geographical origin of an individual or his family. In this case it refers either to the Kanuri-majority state of Borno in north-western Nigeria, or to the historical Kanem-Bornu Empire (c.700 – 1893), which includes not only north-eastern Nigeria, but parts of Chad, Niger, Cameroon. This equates roughly to the operational zone of Boko Haram.

Abu Musab is an ethnic Kanuri, as is most of the Boko Haram membership. His appointment is clearly designed to draw on his legitimacy and religious authority as the son of Muhammad Yusuf. However, enquiries by local journalists in Maiduguri (the home town of Muhammad Yusuf) and other parts of Borno were unsuccessful in finding anyone who had heard of Abu Musab al-Barnawi before his emergence in 2015 (Nigerian News Headlines, August 6).

Abu Musab remained virtually unknown until the release of his first video as Boko Haram spokesman in January 2015. Three months later, Shekau announced Boko Haram’s new alignment as part of the Islamic State organization on March 7, 2015. Since then, an already unstable Shekau has become increasingly erratic, even releasing a video in March 2016 in which he appeared to acknowledge his personal defeat: “For me, end has come” (Mail & Guardian [Johannesburg], March 24).

mamman-nurMamman Nur

One source indicated that the leadership was offered to veteran jihadi Mamman Nur, who declined in deference to Abu Musab (Daily Trust [Lagos], August 6). Nur, who was traditionally aligned with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is the former third-in-command of Boko Haram and its temporary leader in 2009 while Shekau recovered from injuries. There can be little doubt that operational decisions will be taken by Nur, while Abu Musab will assume the role of a figurehead providing religious justification for the movement’s actions while offering a more palatable alternative to Shekau’s bombast and viciousness.

Emergence as Boko Haram Leader

The surprise announcement of Abu Musab’s new role as wali (governor) of the Islamic State’s West African wilayah came via an interview with Abu Musab in the 41st issue of the Islamic State’s e-weekly, al-Naba, released on August 2. In his interview with the Islamic State publication, Abu Musab rejects the use of “Boko Haram” as the common name for the movement, but admits that its use may be partly due to the difficulty of using the movement’s lengthy Arabic official name (al-Naba 41, August 2). He ascribes “Islamic servility” to the fall of the Caliphate centuries ago; supporting the caliphate of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the path to a new era of Muslim glory. Abu Musab insists that, under the new leadership, targeting of mosques or markets full of innocent Muslims will cease in favor of a tighter focus on blowing up churches and killing every Christian they can find. Abu Musab insists that Western NGOs are exploiting Nigeria’s internally displaced Muslims (most of whom have actually been displaced by Boko Haram activities) by enticing them with food and shelter before converting their children to Christianity (al-Naba 41, August 2).

Abu Musab claims that he and seven other leading members of the group (possibly including Mamman Nur) left their women and goods behind to leave Shekau’s Sambisi Forest camp and reject the Boko Haram leader’s personal interpretations of jihad:

We will fight for the cause of Allah and work against personalizing Jihad and against unjustifiable killings and shedding of blood… Just like Allah gave us power to kill infidels, there are those he said we shouldn’t kill without reason. In the Quran, Allah forbade Muslims from killing one another…and he also taught against killing in secret. If it is serious punishment, it must be public for people to know and witness it. But once you see killings in secret, there is something fishy and this is what we noticed with Shekau. What he is doing is not Islam… He is always boasting that he will kill, he will kill. Okay, continue to kill, you will also be killed (Premium Times [Lagos], August 5). [2]

What isn’t clear is how many fighters joined the Abu Musab and Mamman Nur-led exodus from Shekau’s Sambisi-forest base. Shekau’s current state of mind suggests that further defections will be difficult, with the jilted Boko Haram leader watchful for any signs of dissent amongst his fighters. Shekau still commands large numbers of fighters and continues to hold the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls abducted in April 2014, though Abu Musab is reported to hold some of the girls (Daily Trust [Lagos], August 6).

Shekau, who had not been heard from for months, wasted little time in challenging the news of Abu Musab’s appointment, which he claimed he had only learned about from media sources. In an August 3 audiotape, Shekau claimed Abu Musab was in ignorance of “all holy books and teachings,” stating: “Today I woke up to see one who is an infidel whom they want me to follow. No, I won’t…” Shekau proclaimed his loyalty to al-Baghdadi, “the Caliph of the Muslims,” but complained the Islamic State leader had not responded to his messages, that his written explanation of his ideology had been rejected, and that he had ultimately been deceived (NewsNigeria.com, August 5).

Abu Musab similarly replied quickly to Shekau’s message, though much of his criticism of the Boko Haram leader has the perspective and attitude of a much more senior member of the movement, possibly that of Mamman Nur. Nonetheless, the criticisms of Shekau’s leadership were specific [3]:

  • Shekau believes Muslim refugees fleeing to non-Muslim (“infidel”) nations from violence in their homeland are also infidels and should be killed. Shekau justifies this approach by claiming the Quran demands Muslims must make public their opposition and anger to the “infidel” hosts who provide them with the necessities of life.
  • Shekau increasingly relies on a very personal interpretation of Islam and tolerates no dissenting opinions – “Islam is not his creation.”
  • Shekau is reluctant to distribute arms to his fighters, leading to territorial losses.
  • The Boko Haram leader tolerates looting and encourages the killing of Muslims, including women and children – “We don’t know this brand of Jihad… We should be looking for infidels and not our own people. How can we be killing people in the mosques when there are churches and barracks?”
  • Shekau has ordered amputations and even executions on false grounds or as the result of snap decisions that did not consider evidence. Instances cited included the execution of a leader because of a dream, a highly useful gun-maker killed for gossiping and an order to kill the former husbands of women Shekau had taken as wives.
  • Many of these executions have taken place in secret – “In Islam, there is nothing like secret killings, even of an infidel.”
  • Shekau is accused of callousness when told that many of his fighters and their families were dying of hunger; at this point Abu Musab plays an audio recording of Shekau’s response: “Who told you my duty is to look after babies? Who told you my duty is to look after fighters? If this is what you are talking about, then it is you that should look after me.”

In a video message released on August 8 with text read by one of Shekau’s aides, the Shekau faction of Boko Haram pledged its continued loyalty to Shekau and to the Islamic State “caliph” while warning the movement’s leadership has made an uninformed decision in making Abu Musab the new leader of the West African wilayah: “We will not entertain any middle man to come between us and the Khalifa al-Baghdadi until we meet face-to-face with the Khalifa or get a video or audio message from him, then we will reveal to him core secrets about those they are building their trust on” (Premium Times [Lagos], August 8). Meanwhile, Abu Musab claims to have agents hidden among Shekau’s corps of bodyguards who will “crush him” if he attempts to take action against him: “That is how Allah works like a miracle” (Vanguard [Lagos], August 15).

Conclusion

There is little doubt that Nigerian authorities would be pleased to see an internal struggle for the leadership of Boko Haram, though it is possible that a triumph of the Abu Musab/Nur faction could lead to the consolidation of a more efficient and united organization capable of revitalizing the West African wilayat with the support of the Islamic State organization. Unless Shekau is indeed “fatally wounded,” as claimed, deposing Shekau in reality rather than in name will prove difficult, especially given Shekau’s continued support by large numbers of the movement.

The current war of words is an effort by both sides to consolidate support without destroying the movement from within, but maintaining such a standoff is ultimately unsustainable. By claiming his heritage from Muhammad Yusuf, Abu Musab is appealing to a largely Nigerian and Kanuri base at the same time he (and Nur) seek to place the movement within the context of a larger international caliphate.

As Shekau has found, fighting a successful guerrilla war without the support of the local population is an uphill task, though his extremism may appeal to certain foreign fighters who believe the mercurial Shekau provides the path to glory or martyrdom. On the other hand, Abu Musab’s declared intention to kill every Christian he can get his hands on may appeal to the Islamic State leadership, but still places his movement well outside the parameters established by northern Nigeria’s traditional Muslim leaders, who reject Christian proselytization but insist on the necessity of peaceful co-existence with Nigeria’s Christian community, roughly half the Nigerian nation.

Notes

  1. The full title of the Ansaru organization is Jama’atu Ansaril Muslimina fi Bilad al-Sudan – Vanguard for the Protection of Muslims in Black Lands. Ansaru emerged in 2012 as an attempt to create a more focused version of Boko Haram less concerned with massacres of civilians in favor of more targeted attacks and kidnappings. Most of the Ansaru leadership were trained by or had operational experience with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
  2. Abu Musab’s audio in Hausa and Arabic can be heard here: https://soundcloud.com/saharareporters/2016-08-04-audio-00000003-1
  3. Al-Naba 41, August 2, 2016, available at Jihadology:

https://azelin.files.wordpress.com/2016/08/the-islamic-state-e2809cal-nabacc84_-newsletter-4122.pdf

 

This article first appeared in the August 2016 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor.

Last Hurrah or Sign of the Future? The Performance of South African Mercenaries against Boko Haram

Andrew McGregor

AIS Tips and Trends: The African Security Report

June 30, 2015

Earlier this year, Nigeria’s military fortunes brightened suddenly and unexpectedly in the midst of what at first appeared to be a disastrous campaign against the forces of Boko Haram. Though the arrival of new weapons and equipment played a role in this reversal, it now appears that the three-month deployment of South African mercenaries as military trainers and even participants in the fighting in northeastern Nigeria played a major role in enabling Nigeria’s demoralized army to begin expelling Boko Haram militants from their newly occupied territories. While a change in government in Abuja has brought an end to their mission, the evident success of these private military contractors has raised new questions regarding the utility and desirability of using mercenaries in situations where national militaries have failed to make progress against insurgents and terrorists.[1]

SA Mercs 1

Reva Mark III Armored Personnel Carriers operated by South African military contractors in Maiduguri

Lack of political will at the highest levels of President Goodluck Jonathan’s government was largely responsible for the failure of Nigeria’s security services to contain the Boko Haram threat. With the movement seizing new territory and captured arms almost daily, Jonathan suddenly found himself running out of time before the March 2015 presidential election to deal with a file he had done his best to ignore. Something had to be done about Boko Haram quickly, and the president turned to an almost inconceivable solution; the introduction of white and black mercenaries to reverse the fortunes of the Nigerian military, once considered one of the continent’s strongest, but now apparently unable to crush a local rebellion by religious extremists.

While the participation of Nigeria’s Chadian and Nigerien neighbors in a military campaign against the terrorists could be explained by the regional nature of the Boko Haram threat, formally calling on a foreign power to restore order in northeast Nigeria just prior to elections was out of the question. Even if South Africa was considered as a source of military assistance, Jonathan and his aides would have been well aware of the deteriorating state of South Africa’s own military and its less than stellar performance in the Central African Republic in 2013.[2]

Nigerian authorities did not deny the existence of the foreign contractors, but insisted they were only involved in training Nigerian troops in the use of the new weapons arriving for use in the fight against Boko Haram (BBC, March 13, 2015). Most of the mercenaries engaged by Nigeria appear to have been personnel of Specialized Tasks, Training, Equipment and Protection (STTEP), a private military company run by Colonel Eeben Barlow, a widely-known private military contractor and former commander of the South African Defense Force’s 32 Battalion.  STTEP recruits experienced soldiers by word of mouth, including “reformed” South Africans or Namibians who may have fought against the South African Defense Force (SADF – South Africa’s apartheid-era army) as communist guerrillas during South Africa’s border wars.

Despite statements of sympathy for Nigeria’s predicament, both the U.S. and British governments remained firm in their position that the atrocious human rights record of the Nigerian military during the Jonathan administration precluded a military partnership on the ground or a resupply of armaments.

Shortly after his election, new President Muhammadu Buhari (a retired Nigerian Army major-general who seized power in a 1983 military coup, serving as head-of-state until 1985) expressed his objections to the use of mercenaries in Nigeria (Pretoria News, May 21, 2015). Buhari’s running mate, Yemi Osinbajo (now vice-president) ignored certain military realities in declaring his emphatic opposition to the South Africans’ deployment in Nigeria: “Because of the way that this government has degraded the army, we now find the need to engage mercenaries… There is absolutely no reason at all why the Nigerian army, which is one of the finest armies in the world, now have to engage mercenaries to come and fight” (VOA, March 20, 2015).

Following reports from major human rights organizations of widespread human rights abuses by the Nigerian military in northeast Nigeria, Buhari pledged to bring an end to such violations, promising in his inaugural speech: “We shall improve operational and legal mechanisms so that disciplinary steps are taken against proven human rights violations by the armed forces” (Reuters, June 4, 2015).

Like many of its West African neighbors, Nigeria has prior experience with mercenaries, who were used by both sides in the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970). A large number of Chadian mercenaries and European pilots engaged on the federal side, while a smaller number of Rhodesians and Europeans (mainly British, French, Belgian, Portuguese and German) fought unsuccessfully for Biafran independence.

Who are the Mercenaries?

Most of the South Africans deployed to Nigeria would have served together, black and white, in a select number of South African and South West African military units and paramilitaries of the apartheid era. Others will have served together as private military contractors in the post-apartheid era in organizations such as Executive Outcomes.

SA Mercs 2Koevoet Forces on Patrol in South-West Africa (now Namibia) in the 1980s

Some of the South African contractors are believed to be veterans of Koevoet (“Crowbar”), a white-led, mixed race police paramilitary that operated with great efficiency and brutality in South-West Africa (now Namibia) between 1979 and 1989. Working on a bounty system for killed or captured “terrorists” of the South West African People’s Organization (SWAPO), Koevoet scored enormous numbers of kills but took few prisoners. Koevoet bush-craft and tactics were based on the earlier work of the Portuguese Flechas (Arrows) of Angola and Mozambique and Rhodesia’s Selous Scouts. Like these elite formations, Koevet recruited captured fighters who had been “turned,” and occasionally disguised themselves as Marxist guerrillas to carry out ambushes or specific missions.

Other South Africans appear to be veterans of 32 Battalion (a.k.a. the Buffalo Battalion, or “the Terrible Ones”) of the SADF. This white-led unit (recently described by the UK’s Sky News as “a foreign legion of racist mercenaries,” was composed largely of black troops who once belonged to the Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola (FNLA), an Angolan independence movement that lost a post-independence power struggle with the rival Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA) in 1975. 32 Battalion was deployed largely in southern Angola and played an important part in the series of South African operations in Angola in 1987-1988 against Soviet-led Angolan government forces and their Cuban allies known broadly as the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale.

32 Battalion was created and led by Commandant Jan Breytenbach, who was once involved in a covert South African training mission for Biafran rebels in Nigeria.[3] Much hated by South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC), the unit was disbanded in 1993 and its black members retired to the dusty town of Pomfret, where in the absence of other opportunities many continued to seek employment from former SADF officers who had gone on to form private military firms such as Executive Outcomes (EO – 1989-1998) in post-apartheid South Africa. As in their original units, the private military contractors continued to use white officers and senior NCOs, with the other ranks filled largely by black troops.

The “Buffalos” figured in Executive Outcomes operations in Angola and Sierra Leone in the 1990s. Many were unfortunate enough to allow themselves to be recruited by former SAS member and Sandline International co-founder Simon Mann for a failed coup attempt in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea in 2004. Most endured a nasty stretch in prison in Zimbabwe (where they had been arrested en route to Equatorial Guinea) before being returned to Pomfret.[4] A smaller number in the advance party found themselves doing long stretches in Equatorial Guinea’s notorious Black Beach Prison where they were joined by Simon Mann after his extradition from Zimbabwe.

It is likely that some other South Africans may be veterans of the SADF’s Special Forces, known as “the Recces.” These units were once highly active in covert operations throughout southern Africa.

Eastern Europeans were also hired as military contractors by Nigeria and served alongside the South Africans, but their presence does not carry the same political baggage and no complaints have been made. Information about the East Europeans is in short supply, including whether they have remained in Nigeria under separate contract. Ukrainians have become ubiquitous throughout Africa as contracted civil and military pilots of both aircraft and helicopters. Some reports indicate that they have been joined in Nigeria by Russian and Georgian military contractors.

STTEP’s Nigerian Campaign

According to STTEP chairman Eeben Barlow, the military firm was engaged for work in Nigeria as a sub-contractor for an un-named primary contractor in December 2014. Their original mission was to rescue the over 250 schoolgirls from Chibok kidnapped by Boko Haram, though this soon evolved into the creation of a mobile strike force incorporating Nigerian troops capable of reversing Boko Haram’s offensive momentum. The South Africans established a base in a corner of Maiduguri’s airport, closed for the last two years due to instability, but still capable of providing a base for aerial attacks and helicopter missions.

SA Mercs 3Strike Force 72 Operating in Borno State

The STTEP contractors were eventually attached to Nigeria’s elite 72 Strike Force in January 2015 to create a mobile strike force “with its own organic air support, intelligence, communications, logistics and other relevant combat support elements.”[5] After a period of intense training, the strike force conducted its first successful operation in late February. Since then, the South Africans appear to have played a major role in flushing Boko Haram fighters out of their camps hidden in the thick brush of the Sambisa Forest, though some elements remain due to a failure to complete this operation. There is no evidence that either Barlow or the South Africans in the field coordinated in any way with Chadian or Nigerien troops operating in the same region.

Founded in 2006, STTEP International Ltd. describes itself as “an international, privately-owned military, intelligence and law enforcement training and advisory company.” STTEP’s motto is “Failure is never an option,” and the firm claims to have “never failed in any of its missions, undertakings or projects.” The company’s operational procedure is to align itself with the armed forces of the client government to achieve strategic and operational goals through “military input and advice and support at both the operational and tactical levels.” Areas of claimed expertise include counter-terrorism, offensive counter drug operation, unconventional warfare, semi-conventional warfare and covert/clandestine operations.[6]

In all cases, Barlow emphasizes the “African” character of STTEP, a factor he believes improves relations with client nation militaries in Africa and helps training succeed where foreign military missions fail due to “poor training, bad advice, a lack of strategy, vastly different tribal affiliations, ethnicity, religion, languages, cultures [and] not understanding the conflict and enemy.”[7]

Barlow rejects the common media theme that the (mostly black) South Africans working in Nigeria and elsewhere are apartheid-era holdovers:

Some in the media like to refer to us as ‘racists’ or ‘apartheid soldiers’ with little knowledge of our organization… We are primarily white, black, and brown Africans who reside on this continent and are accepted as such by African governments… Had we been the so-called racists some media whores insist on calling us, do you think any African government would even want to speak to us? I very much doubt it.[8]

The Nigerian contract allowed Barlow to demonstrate the virtues of his tactical approach, which he describes as “relentless offensive action.” According to Barlow:

Troops need to develop their aggression level to such a point that the enemy fears them. Aggressive pursuit is aimed at initiating contact as heavily with the enemy as possible.[9]

Using expert trackers, strike force units pursue enemy forces with armored personnel carriers supported by air assets providing fire support, transportation, reconnaissance and medevac. Wherever possible, strike force personnel use helicopters to “leapfrog” the enemy and prevent his escape from pursuing forces. Superiority in night operations, engagement with maximum forces every time the enemy is encountered and the rotation of strike force frontline units enables the strike force to exhaust and confuse the enemy before completing his destruction. Territory retaken by strike force units is then turned over to conventional troops (in this case the Nigerian Army) for consolidation and occupation.[10]

Strike force ground units and their South African trainers relied on South-African made REVA (reliable, effective, versatile and affordable) armored personnel carriers. Capable of carrying ten passengers, the REVA’s V-shaped hull offers mine resistance, while two light machine guns provide firepower. The REVA is considered to be a low maintenance vehicle capable of operating in difficult conditions. Nigeria, Thailand, Yemen and Iraq are among the major export markets for the REVA.  According to South Africa’s Netwerk24, twenty of the APCs were sold to Nigeria under a contract approved by the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (Netwerk24, March 11, 2015).

SA Mercs MapRisky Business

Some of the men who deployed in Nigeria would be known to ex-mercenary pilot Crause Steyl, who played a prominent role in the failed “Wonga Coup.” During the Nigerian deployment, Steyl remarked:

The South African mercenaries are giving Boko Haram a hiding. These guys are in their 50s, but for a pilot or tank driver it doesn’t really matter. There’s going to be no Boko Haram. It boggles the mind that Britain and America promised to help Nigeria but never did. But the South African government doesn’t want [the mercenaries] to exist. They wish them off the planet. When they come back from Nigeria, it will try to prosecute them and put them in jail. Because the colour of these men is white, it makes laws that stop them earning money off shore. How wrong can you be? There is now reverse racism and it’s difficult for white people to get a job (Guardian, April 14, 2015).

Indeed, financial motives appear to inspire these aging warriors more than ideology or racism. Lack of opportunity in the new South Africa is consistently cited by both black and white members of these latter-day mercenary formations and similar motives no doubt lie behind the involvement of the more reticent East European military contractors.

59-year-old Leon Lotz, a former member of Koevoet who was declared persona non grata in Namibia just prior to its independence, was the only South African known to have died by live fire during the deployment. Lotz was killed in a friendly-fire incident that occurred when a Nigerian T-72 tank opened up on a Hilux truck carrying Lotz, an East European (also killed) and a number of black Strike Force members who wer wounded. (VOA, March 20, 2015).  Another South African was reported to have died in Nigeria six weeks previously from a heart attack (Netwerk24, March 11, 2015). South Africa’s Defense Ministry used Lotz’s death to issue a warning “to others who are considering engaging in such activities to really think twice and consider the repercussions” (BBC, March 13, 2015).

South African Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula warned that the South African military contractors were in violation of the nation’s Foreign Military Assistance Act and could face prosecution and a possible six-year prison term on their return (Pretoria News, May 21, 2015; The Star [Johannesburg], May 21, 2015). According to the Defense Minister, herself a prominent figure in the revolutionary ANC: “They are mercenaries, whether they are training, skilling the Nigerian defence force, or scouting for them. The point is they have no business to be there” (The Guardian, April 14, 2015). Otherwise, there was a general silence from South African government figures regarding the private military deployment.

Despite their apparent success, STTEP’s contract was not renewed in March, a situation Barlow acknowledges had to do with the change in government, though the STTEP chairman maintains that much of the responsibility lies with the South African print media’s “racist mercenary” narrative: “The South African government has been fed such a false narrative by the South African media that it is possible they requested the Nigerian government not to extend the contract. The media here has tried very hard to turn this into a racial issue with the intent to create as much suspicion as possible.” Nonetheless, Barlow credits the Nigerian Army for driving back Boko Haram, describing “the strike force we trained” as a “force-multiplier in the area of operations.”[11]

To defeat such an enemy militarily, we must out-think and outsmart him by adopting tactics, techniques, and procedures that are so unexpected and unconventional that he becomes confused and loses his cohesion.[12]

Projections

The participation of South African citizens in the campaign against religious extremists in Nigeria is unlikely to have many repercussions within South Africa, where only 1.5% of the population is Muslim (mainly of ethnic-Indian origins) and few of these could be considered radicalized. Nonetheless, there were reports in May of a letter to South African Islamic scholars purportedly from South Africans who have traveled to Iraq (or possibly Syria) to join Islamic State militants. The letter arrived after public criticism of the Islamic State by prominent South African Islamic scholars and warned fellow Muslims:

You are being deceived and misguided by people claiming to have knowledge of what the Caliphate is and what is happening in the Islamic State. Firstly, let us look at the source of this information and knowledge that you are being fed… Most of it is coming from news channels and media sources that are either funded by or run exclusively by Jewish conglomerates. So a large portion of your opinions about your brothers and your state… is based on information that you attain from the enemy (News24 [Cape Town], June 14, 2015).

Several years ago it became commonly thought that the “problem” of South African mercenary activity in Africa was gradually solving itself as the former SADF members who formed the bulk of such groups were simply becoming too old for military adventuring. Though the Nigerian campaign is undoubtedly an unexpected “last hurrah” for many of these ex-SADF soldiers, their apparent success in reversing Boko Haram’s gains in Borno Province could encourage imitation in other African nations unable to deal with insurgencies.

Surprisingly, what the South African episode reveals is that the Nigerian military is entirely capable of dealing with the Boko Haram threat if provided with leadership, training and equipment. The question is whether Nigeria can sustain an offensive led by Special Forces or bog down due to systemic problems within the Nigerian military that cannot be resolved overnight. The recent counter-strikes by Boko Haram militants suggest that the latter result may be the most likely.

In the meantime, private military contractors continue to seek new battlefields while exploiting the apparent legitimization of their trade in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a recent interview, ex-Executive Outcomes director Simon Mann insisted that a 2000 man private military company could, with air and armor support, deal a decisive blow to Islamic State forces in Iraq. Basing his conclusion on the performance of the South-African trained mobile strike force in Nigeria and the success of his own Executive Outcomes combating insurgents in Angola and Sierra Leone, Mann suggests that Islamic State forces “are probably more terrifying than they are competent, and it all comes down to training and experience at the end of the day. We know that the Iraqi army were not being properly led, paid or equipped and that equates to disaster. How did anyone expect it to end? … Don’t get me wrong, [Islamic State forces] are probably very frightening up front, although I doubt they are as professionally trained as the rebels we came up against in Angola (Telegraph, June 4, 2015).

Notes

[1] Without imparting any ethical connotations to the terminology, private military contractors is probably a more accurate term for these modern “mercenaries” in that it reflects the corporate basis of these formations rather than an image of the individual freebooters that once filled mercenary ranks.

[2] See “South African Military Disaster in The Central African Republic: Part One – The Rebel Offensive,” Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor, Washington DC, April 4, 2015, http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=238 ; “South African Military Disaster in The Central African Republic: Part Two – The Political and Strategic Fallout,” Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor, April 4, 2015, http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=236 ;  “The South African National Defense Force – A Military In Free-fall,” Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor, January 25, 2013, http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=163

[3] See Piet Nortje, 32 Battalion: The Inside Story of South Africa’s Elite Fighting Unit, Zebra, 2006, pp. 8-9. This history of the unit is written from the perspective of a former regimental sergeant-major.

[4] See Adam Roberts: The Wonga Coup: Guns, Thugs, and a Ruthless Determination to Create Mayhem in an Oil-Rich Corner of Africa, PublicAffairs, 2007.

[5] Jack Murphy, “Eeben Barlow Speaks Out (Pt. 2): Development of a Nigerian Strike Force,” April 6, 2015, http://sofrep.com/40623/eeben-barlow-speaks-pt-2-development-nigerian-strike-force/

[6] See http://www.sttepi.com/default.aspx ; http://www.sttepi.com/major_projects.aspx ; http://www.sttepi.com/special_tasks.aspx

[7] Jack Murphy, “Eeben Barlow Speaks Out (Pt. 1): PMC and Nigerian Strike Force Devastates Boko Haram,” April 1, 2015, http://sofrep.com/40608/eeben-barlow-south-african-pmc-devestates-boko-haram-pt1/

[8] Jack Murphy, “Eeben Barlow Speaks Out (Pt.4): Rejecting the Racial Narrative,” April 8, 2015, http://sofrep.com/40675/eeben-barlow-speaks-pt-4-rejecting-racial-narrative/

[9] Jack Murphy, “Eeben Barlow Speaks Out (Pt. 3): Tactics Used to Destroy Boko Haram,” April 7, 2015, http://sofrep.com/40633/eeben-barlow-speaks-pt-3-tactics-used-destroy-boko-haram/

[10] Ibid

[11] Jack Murphy: “Eeben Barlow Speaks Out (Pt. 6): South African Contractors Withdrawal from Nigeria,” Sofrep, April 17, 2015, http://sofrep.com/40865/eeben-barlow-speaks-pt-6-south-african-contractors-withdrawal-nigeria/

[12] Ibid

Conflict at a Crossroads: Can Nigeria Sustain Its Military Campaign Against Boko Haram?

Andrew McGregor
June 26, 2015

Expectations that the election of new Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari would lead to effective military measures against northeast Nigeria’s Boko Haram militants have been dashed in recent weeks as the terrorist group carried out strikes on Chad and Niger, in addition to an intensified campaign of suicide bombings within Nigeria.

Nigeria - Buhari 1983General Muhammadu Buhari in 1983

Buhari, who once served as the military governor of Borno State, the region most affected by the Boko Haram insurgency, is determined to open the troubled Lake Chad region, the focus of the militants’ recent activities, up to oil exploration, but this requires a stable environment in the region first (Vanguard [Lagos], April 20, 2015). Buhari led a lightning strike against Chad in 1983 on several Lake Chad islands whose sovereignty was disputed by Nigeria, but did so without the authorization of civilian president Shehu Shagari. [1]

In the meantime, the newly elected president used his first trips abroad as president to visit his counterparts in Niger and Chad, a clear sign that Buhari intends to make a break from the relatively uncooperative approach of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan that helped breed distrust and even personal animosity among the region’s leaders. Talks were focused on security issues and the necessity of improving cooperation in this area.
Boko Haram leader Abubakr Shekau meanwhile, in March, pledged his movement’s allegiance to the Islamic State at the same time that Boko Haram was suffering serious reverses on the battlefield due to an infusion of new weapons and foreign military trainers in the lead-up to Nigerian elections. The movement now uses the official name Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).

Problems of the Nigerian Military Inherited by President Buhari

Most of the fighting in the last two years has been carried out by the Nigerian Army’s 7th Division, specifically created from three armored brigades in August 2013 for use against Boko Haram and headquartered in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State. The 7th Division replaced the multi-service Joint Task Force (JTF), which had been criticized for its indifference to civilian casualties in the battle against Boko Haram. However, certain problems have remained endemic to the Nigerian military, including:

• Poor air-ground operational coordination; air assets routinely fail to provide battlefield support;
• Demoralization to the point of mutiny in some units, often linked to insufficient training and a failure to pay salaries;
• Failure to keep Nigerian arms, ammunition and armored vehicles out of the hands of militants;
• Poor leadership that blames undertrained and under-equipped troops for their failure;
• Rampant corruption, even leading to battlefield shortages of arms and ammunition despite one of the largest defense budgets in sub-Saharan Africa, and political indifference. Ethnic rivalries also persist in the officer corps;
• Inferior logistics, an inability to maintain or at times operate complex equipment and a slow medical response on the battlefield;
• Indifference to civilian lives or human rights issues, a reliance on civilian vigilante groups and the penetration of the intelligence services by militants;
• Poor intelligence work, based partly on poor relations with local groups;
• A generally compliant media that encourages false confidence in the military;
• Unwillingness to cooperate in the field with regional allies, who are generally regarded by the Nigerian military as junior partners regardless of the reality on the ground.

While Chadian and Nigérien forces made substantial gains against Boko Haram earlier this year, there were still complaints that Nigeria was preventing hot pursuits of retreating militants that would have ultimately resulted in their destruction (Vanguard [Lagos], June 11, 2015). However, with President Jonathan in a tight race for re-election, the Boko Haram fight took on a new urgency, with Jonathan’s administration turning to Eastern European mercenaries to improve air-ground coordination and South African private military contractors to provide training in new weapons and tactics. The latter contractors were part of a company known as Specialized Tasks, Training, Equipment and Protection (STTEP), headed by Colonel Eeben Barlow, a widely-known private military contractor and former commander of the South African Defense Force’s 32 Battalion. STTEP concentrated on creating a mobile Nigerian strike force “with its own organic air support, intelligence, communications, logistics and other relevant combat support elements.” [2]

During their three-month contract, Barlow’s tactical approach, known as “relentless offensive action,” helped reverse recent gains by Boko Haram. Unfortunately, these gains appear to be in remission following the departure of the South Africans in late March.
In an effort to maintain the momentum, Buhari used his May 29 inauguration speech to announce he was shifting the command center for military operations against Boko Haram from Abuja (the Nigerian capital) to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State and a frequent target for Boko Haram attacks since the election (Vanguard [Lagos], June 5, 2015).

Post-Election Attacks

Following the elections, Boko Haram launched an offensive using terrorist tactics almost immediately after Buhari took power. Since then, the group has also responded to increasing military pressure by shifting away from trying to occupy a “caliphate” in the Borno/Yobe/Adamawa States region of northeast Nigeria to the renewed use of terrorist methods, such as slaying inhabitants of defenseless villages in raids and hitting urban centers with suicide bombers targeting concentrations of people at markets, checkpoints and weddings. As well as mass raids on Maiduguri, Boko Haram has expanded its suicide bombings to the previously untouched city of Yola, the capital of Adamawa State (Vanguard [Lagos], June 5, 2015; Daily Trust [Lagos], June 6, 2015).

A Regional Solution: Reviving the Multi-National Joint Task Force

Though the Nigerian security forces found themselves hard-pressed after Buhari’s election, on a larger scale, there were signs that Boko Haram’s regional opponents were now ready to work out a common strategy through the revitalization of the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), an anti-terrorist alliance of Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon, with a non-military representation from Benin. The move promised to reverse the isolated efforts of alliance members during the Jonathan regime, with Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno complaining that, two months into the war, Chad’s military still had insufficient contact with the Nigerian military: “The Nigerian Army and the Chadian Army are working separately in the field. They are not undertaking joint operations. If they were [carrying out] joint operations probably they would have achieved more results” (Punch, [Lagos], June 9, 2015).

Nigeria - TroopsNigerian Troops with Captured Boko Haram Banner

Participating nations will begin deploying troops to the MNJTF on July 30, 2015. The force has a planned strength of 8,700 personnel while its operational zone will be split into three sectors. Each contributing nation will be responsible for equipping and maintaining their own units (Vanguard [Lagos], June 11, 2015). The post of MNJTF commander will be filled by a Nigerian until the end of the conflict with Boko Haram (a point Buhari insisted upon), while a Cameroonian will hold the post of deputy force commander and a Chadian will be the chief-of-staff. The latter two positions will rotate every 12 months. The task force’s headquarters will be located in N’Djamena, the Chadian capital and headquarters for France’s African security operations known as Operation Barkhane (Punch [Lagos], June 11, 2015).

The first MNJTF commander is Major General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, whose most notable former posting was as the commander of Joint Task Force, Operation Pulo Shield, which targeted oil thieves and pirates in the Niger Delta region (Daily Post [Lagos], June 3, 2015). General Buratai may have a personal interest in destroying Boko Haram; while he was away commanding Joint Task Force operations in the southern Niger Delta in 2014, his large Borno State home was attacked and burned by Boko Haram militants, who also killed one guard (Premium Times [Abuja], February 20, 2015). Under President Jonathan, Nigeria pledged to cover the main cost of funding the MNJTF, a pledge President Buhari renewed in June with an offer of $100 million (Vanguard [Lagos], June 11, 2015; This Day [Lagos], June 11, 2015).

Nigeria’s Demoralized Army

Poor morale has inhibited a strong Nigerian military response to Boko Haram. In late May, some 200 Nigerian soldiers were dismissed from service for cowardice, with many likely relating to the fall of the town of Mubi (Adamawa State) to Boko Haram in late October 2014. Troops in Mubi bolted for the state capital of Yola when Boko Haram attacked, and Nigerian authorities claimed to have “video evidence of their cowardice” (This Day [Lagos], May 28; Premium Times [Abuja], October 29, 2014). One of the dismissed soldiers claimed that they had only followed orders from their officers to withdraw from Mubi due to inadequate weapons (This Day [Lagos], May 28, 2015). Another sacked soldier claimed troops were given only five bullets each as well as expired bombs made in 1964. The troops’ heaviest weapons only had a range of 400 meters while they were facing militants using anti-aircraft weapons with a range of over 1,000 meters (Vanguard [Lagos], May 28, 2015 This Day [Lagos], May 28, 2015).

As of May 21, Nigerian military authorities were able to confirm that no less than 579 officers and soldiers were facing courts martial in Abuja and Lagos for offenses including indiscipline, refusal to obey orders, insubordination and cowardice (This Day [Lagos], May 21, 2015). Sixty-six other soldiers have already been condemned to death for mutiny and their failure to confront Boko Haram, though these sentences might be revisited by the new president.

New Equipment to Turn the Tide

Nigerian Ambassador to the United States Adebowale Adefuye expressed his government’s displeasure with what they perceived as the United States’ unwillingness to support the struggle against Boko Haram or provide lethal military equipment based on “rumors, hearsays and exaggerated accounts” of human rights abuses by Nigerian forces in Borno (Punch [Lagos], November 13, 2014). After Nigeria’s attempt last year to purchase U.S.-made Bell AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters from Israel (which had replaced their Cobra fleet with newer AH-64 Apache helicopters) was blocked by the United States, which retains control over resale of such equipment, Nigeria turned to other suppliers for its needs:

• Nigeria began to deploy newly acquired French-made Aérospatiale Gazelle attack helicopters in February, though it was unclear how many were purchased or from whom (DefenceWeb, March 16, 2015). What was clear, however, was that the helicopters were flown at first by foreign military contractors in support of operations carried out by Nigeria’s 72 Strike Force in Borno State;
• Two Eurocopter AS-332 Super Puma helicopters in storage since 1997 are being refurbished and upgraded by Eurocopter Romania. One of two existing Nigerian Super Puma helicopters was lost in a crash in Lagos on April 11 (This Day [Lagos], April 11, 2015);
• Nigeria’s air force will reportedly soon deploy Russian-made attack helicopters ordered in August 2014 (DefenceWeb, March 16, 2015). The new acquisitions include six Mi-35 (NATO reporting name “Hind-E”), an updated export version of the well-known Mi-24 (NATO reporting name “Hind”) designed for harsh climates. Besides its attack capabilities, the Mi-35 can also act as a transport, carrying eight fully equipped soldiers. Nigeria is also obtaining twelve Mi-17Sh (NATO reporting name “Hip”) helicopters, an export version of the multi-purpose transport/gunship Mi-17;
• Nigeria appears to be using five Chinese-made CASC CH-3 Rainbow UAV’s in combat missions against Boko Haram. A photo of one such craft downed in Borno State in January shows the drone is equipped with a variety of missiles, most likely YC-200 guided bombs and AR-1 air-to-ground missiles; [3]
• The United States has also permitted the sale of two Dassault/Dornier Alpha light attack/trainer jets to help replace losses (DefenceWeb, March 30; May 26).

Training on the new equipment, especially helicopter gunships and armored vehicles, was provided in part by South African private military contractors (BBC, March 13). Both air and land forces are being upgraded with night vision equipment.

Nigeria has also embarked on a major arms acquisition program that includes procuring 16 T-72 tanks and rocket launchers from the Czech Republic and armored personnel carriers from Ukraine, China, South Africa and Canada to provide greater battlefield mobility, firepower and security. Buhari’s election has also allowed the United States to reappraise its relations with Nigeria, deeply strained by the corruption and human rights abuses of the Jonathan regime (Reuters, June 5, 2015).

Regional Dimensions of the Conflict

Boko Haram is now targeting Chadian and Nigérien communities in response to the participation of these nations in the anti-Boko Haram military coalition. On June 18, militants crossed the border from Borno into the Diffa region of Niger, where they slaughtered at least 38 people, mostly women and children (AFP, June 19, 2015). Only days earlier, motorcycle-riding suicide bombers struck a police training college and the central police station in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena on June 15, killing 27 people. Boko Haram’s message was clear: despite Chad’s military offensive against the group, the group remained capable of striking the city, which serves as headquarters for the revamped MNJTF and France’s counter-terrorism Operation Barkhane (Reuters, June 15, 2015).

Vowing that “spilling the blood of Chadians will not go unpunished,” Chad’s air force claimed to have carried out airstrikes on six Boko Haram bases in Nigeria in retribution (Reuters, June 18, 2015). However, these claims were quickly rejected by Nigeria’s military, which insisted the air strikes must have been carried out in Niger. The inability of Nigeria and Chad to even agree on where air strikes were carried out demonstrates that cooperation is still in short supply. The somewhat testy statement issued by Nigerian Director of Defense Information Major General Chris Olukolade spoke to continued resentment of the military coalition among Nigeria’s military leadership: “Although the terms of the multilateral and bilateral understanding with partners in the war against terror allow some degree of hot pursuit against the terrorists, the territory of Nigeria has not been violated as insinuated in the reports circulated in some foreign media” (Premium Times [Abuja], June 18, 2015). Other measures announced by Chadian authorities included a round-up of foreigners and bans on the burqa and niqab (Nigerian Guardian [Lagos], June 20, 2015).

In addition, recognizing that underlying the Boko Haram rebellion is the extreme poverty of northeast Nigeria and neighboring regions around Lake Chad, the Lake Chad Basin Commission (consisting of Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon) is implementing an emergency $65 million development initiative in the region to “combat the causes and conditions that favor the development of insecurity” (Vanguard [Lagos], June 11, 2015).

Conclusion

Part of the reason the Nigerian military has had difficulty in establishing firepower superiority against the insurgents is that most of Boko Haram’s military equipment has been seized from Nigerian Army stocks, leaving both sides similarly equipped in terms of weapons. The Nigerian military must thus use the other advantages available to state actors, such as effective use of airpower, organized supply systems, troop rotation and employment of foreign technical experts where necessary.

Nigeria’s counter-insurgency efforts seem to have improved, notably through greater use of small numbers of better-trained Special Forces personnel rather than the deployment of large numbers of poorly-trained and poorly-equipped regular army personnel on the frontline. However, the inability of Nigeria’s security forces to prevent or even stem the growth of urban terrorism in the northeast speaks to the continued failure of Nigerian intelligence services to gather actionable intelligence in the region.

At the moment, Nigerian Special Forces personnel and Air Force assets appear to be leading the effort to clear Boko Haram from their bases in the Sambisa Forest. Losses are reportedly heavy (precise figures are hard to come by), and there are still problems in the supply chain, with troops in the field going for days with little water or food (Daily Trust [Lagos], June 6). However, new weapons and tactics will inevitably prove to be only part of a more comprehensive military and economic solution to Nigeria’s expanding Boko Haram insurgency. President Buhari’s new administration can either exploit the renewed goodwill it has encountered from the United States and an eagerness amongst its regional military partners for greater military and economic cooperation, or it can fall back into the familiar patterns of negligence and corruption that have so hampered the struggle against Boko Haram. In this sense, the crisis in the Lake Chad region has reached a crossroads for the Nigerian government.

This article first appeared in the June 26, 2015 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Notes
1. See Jack Murphy, “Eeben Barlow Speaks Out (Pt. 2): Development of a Nigerian Strike Force,” April 6, 2015, http://sofrep.com/40623/eeben-barlow-speaks-pt-2-development-nigerian-strike-force/.
2. See Adeoye A. Akinsanya and John A. Ayoade, An Introduction to Political Science in Nigeria, Rowman & Littlefield, 2013, p. 272; Adekeye Adebajo, Liberia’s Civil War: Nigeria, ECOMOG, and Regional Security in West Africa, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002
3. See http://www.airforceworld.com/blog/ch3-uav-drone-crashed-in-nigeria/.

Chad’s Military Takes the Lead in Campaign against Boko Haram: Can Nigeria’s Embarrassment Equal Multinational Military Success?

Andrew McGregor

From Tips and Trends: The AIS African Security Report, March 2015

Chad Troops in MaliChadian Troops in the Field in Mali

In a six-week campaign, Chad’s military has mounted an air-supported ground offensive against Nigeria’s Boko Haram militants that has crossed into both Nigeria and Cameroon. In the process, Chad has shattered Boko Haram strength in the Lake Chad border region but now finds further progress stalled as Abuja denies permission to pursue the fleeing gunmen further into Nigeria. With Chadian operations having scored major successes against Boko Haram, there is now a danger the still inefficient Nigerian military will attempt to take over operations on its own territory to bolster the electoral chances of Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, who faces an election on March 28.

Chad’s Military Intervention in Nigeria

A brigade size group (1500 to 2000 men) was sent with some 400 military vehicles to the Lake Chad border region on January 16, 2015. The legal framework for Chadian intervention in the region was already established by the 1998 agreement between Chad, Nigeria and Niger to form a Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) to combat cross-border crime and militancy. Since their arrival in January, Chad’s military has reported a series of spectacular, if numerically unverifiable victories, including a battle at Gambaru in which the army reported the death of 207 Boko Haram militants to a loss of one Chadian soldier killed and nine wounded (Reuters, February 25, 2015) [1]. Nonetheless, the poorly coordinated offensive is still taking a toll on Boko Haram, reducing its strength and expelling it from towns (and economic support bases) taken in recent months. Boko Haram counter-attacks persist, but most are driven back without great loss.

  • On January 29-30, Chadian forces crossed into Nigeria for the first time, using jet fighters and ground forces to drive Boko Haram fighters from the village of Malam Fatori in Borno State after a two-day battle (ThisDay [Lagos], February 1, 2015; Daily Trust [Lagos], January 30, 2015; al-Jazeera, January 30, 2015).
  • On January 31, 2015, Chadian forces reported killing 120 Boko Haram fighters in a battle in northern Cameroon centered around the town of Fatakol and used two fighter jets (most likely Sukhoi Su-25 recently obtained from Ukraine) to bomb the Nigerian town of Gambaru (Reuters, January 31, 2015; AFP, January 31, 2015).
  • On February 3, Chadian troops backed by armored vehicles took Gambaru after a fight of several hours (Independent, February 4, 2015). One Chadian battalion commander who took part in the attack on Gambaru had little praise for the Boko Haram fighters that had resisted months of Nigerian operations in the area, saying “yesterday’s offensive made us realize that the fighters of the sect, mainly composed of minors, are only cowards” (Alwhihda [N’Djamena], January 30).

The rapid success of Chadian forces against Boko Haram fighters in the border region revealed the sham war that Nigeria’s military has mounted against the Islamists – Malum Fatori, for example, had been held by the militants since October, even though it fell to the Chadians in one day. Chad has succeeded by using aerial bombardments on Boko Haram targets prior to massive assaults with ground troops and armor. These tactics stand in contrast to those of the Nigerian military, which has become notorious for poor ground-air coordination and failing to press attacks, often citing inferior arms or ammunition shortages. Nigerian warplanes were blamed for the death of 36 civilians when two fighter-jets attacked a funeral party in the Niger border town of Abadam on February 17 (Reuters, February 18). [2]

Nigeria – No Longer a Regional Military Power

Nigeria’s foreign minister, Aminu Wali, has tried to explain why Nigeria requires international assistance in combatting Boko Haram:

It is not that the Nigeria army isn’t fighting, it actually is. But in the context of an unconventional war, that is something else. The same thing applies to the war on terror. So the conventional armed forces aren’t adapted to this kind of conflict. We have to retrain them so that they will be capable to fight this particular conflict that they’ve never known before (RFI, January 30, 2015).

In October 2014, Chad, Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon agreed to coordinate their military efforts against Boko Haram, though follow-up was slow. Nigerian relations with Cameron have been historically strained by rival claims to the Bakassi Peninsula in the resource-rich Gulf of Guinea, which was eventually awarded to Cameroon through international arbitration in 2009. Since then, Cameroonian oil infrastructure in the region has been subject to attacks by a hybrid criminal/separatist movement seeking unification with Nigeria.[3]

Since the joint offensive began, Nigerian military performance has improved, which the government chalks up to newly purchased arms and Special Forces reinforcements being sent to help the ill-equipped, poorly-led and occasionally mutinous Nigerian 7th Division, which took over responsibility for the sector from the Nigerian Joint Task Force (JTF) in August 2013 (at one point troops of the 7th Division’s 101st Battalion fired at former division commander Major-General Ahmadu Mohammed, who only narrowly survived – see ThisDay [Lagos], May 16, 2014). The retaking of Baga by Nigerian troops on February 21 deprived Boko Haram of a major base and gave a boost to the political fortunes of President Goodluck Jonathan, but the town could have been taken weeks earlier if the Nigerian Army had not rebuffed Chad’s offer of a joint offensive, according to Chadian Army spokesman Colonel Azem Bermandoa (Reuters, March 3, 2015). Baga was the scene of a firefight in April 2013 in which the JTF and Boko Haram displayed a callous disregard for the lives of civilians in the town, killing over 185 people. The town was taken by Boko Haram in January 2015 when fleeing Nigerian troops allowed the militants to massacre hundreds of civilians (BBC, February 2, 2015).

Northeast Nigeria MapNortheast Nigeria – Zone of Chadian Operations

Colonel Bermandoa has likewise complained that Chadian forces took the ancient Nigerian town of Dikwa in mid-February but were ordered by the Nigerians to evacuate it so the Nigerians could launch an airstrike on the community. Chadian forces were compelled to retake the town on March 2 at a cost of one dead and 34 wounded (AFP, February 19, 2015; Reuters, March 2, March 3, 2015; Premium Times [Lagos], March 2, 2015; RFI, February 3, 2015).

Cameroon and Niger have played secondary but important roles in the offensive, pouring their forces into their border regions where they have repulsed attacks, cut supply routes and prevented Boko Haram fighters from slipping away across the borders.

Why Chad is Fighting in Nigeria

Landlocked Chad’s main trade routes cross through areas of Nigeria and northern Cameroon that have been blocked by Boko Haram occupation and operations, leading to shortages of goods (including food from Nigeria), interruption in the important export trade in Chadian cattle and rapidly rising prices for most goods (Wall Street Journal, February 26, 2015).

Economic effects have also been felt in northeastern Nigeria, where the important supply of smoked fish from Lake Chad has been disturbed as a consequence of trade routes being cut by the militants and the fear of fishermen on the Nigerian side of the lake that they will be conscripted into Boko Haram, resulting in shortages and soaring prices for fish in Nigeria (AFP, February 25, 2015).

Boko Haram leader Abubakr Shekau threatened to launch a war against Chad, Cameroon and Niger in a January 2015 video in retaliation for their alleged pro-French sympathies. The Boko Haram leader also took the opportunity to mock the Nigerian military, which has long complained a lack of equipment and arms is preventing them from properly engaging Boko Haram:

All this war equipment that you see being displayed in the screen are gotten from [the captured Nigerian towns of] Baga and Doro. Your army kept deceiving the world that you can’t fight us because you have no arms. Liars! You have all that it takes; you are just coward soldiers (Premium Times [Abuja], January 21, 2015).

In late January, Boko Haram spokesman Abu Musab al-Barnawi used a video to issue new threats to Chad and its MJTF partners:

We say to Niger and Chad that if they stop their assault on us and we will stop our assault on them; otherwise, just as you fight us we will fight you. We will inflame a war of which you have not before tasted its bitterness. Withdraw your soldiers before you regret what will come soon and you have no time to regret. (Premium Times [Lagos], January 28, 2015).

Boko Haram made its first attack on Chadian soil on February 13, using motorized canoes to set a fishing village on fire before being repulsed by Chadian soldiers in what the local Chadian governor described as a “publicity stunt” (Reuters, February 13, 2015).

Most Boko Haram members, including its leaders, belong to the once powerful Kanuri community whose former Bornu Empire straddled the modern borderland between Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger. Though most of Boko Haram, including its leadership, are Kanuris, most of the militant group’s victims have also been Kanuri, dispelling any notion that the Islamist movement somehow represents the Kanuri community. Nonetheless, it is clear that Boko Haram members have been able to utilize family ties and other types of kinship to facilitate the cross-border movement of arms, supplies and personnel across local borders. Given this cross-border movement, it seems likely that Chadian security forces will have a close look at the local Kanuri community in southern Chad during their deployment in the region.

Keeping the military busy in the south may also appeal to the Déby regime; the last attempt by factions of the military to mount a coup was less than two years ago, while Déby himself came to power in a 1990 coup. However, continuous deployment to various theatres runs the risk of internal military breakdown and Chad is already committed to maintaining 1,000 men of its small army in Mali as part of UN peacekeeping operations.
Aware of the danger of reciprocal attacks from Boko Haram, Chad’s security forces have stepped up security, mounting roadblocks, securing the entrances to the capital, N’Djamena, guarding assembly points such as schools, markets and places of worship and rounding up suspected Boko Haram sympathizers in N’Djamena. Many of those arrested belong to the Kanuri community, though Interior Minister Abderahim Bireme Hamid insists that “The arrests are not targeted at a particular social group or community, but those suspected of being close to Boko Haram” (Xinhua, January 28, 2015).

Prior Performance in Military Interventions

Chad’s expeditionary force in Mali performed well in 2013 and did much of the fighting to expel the various armed Islamist groups that had seized northern Mali. However, heavy losses from ambushes and suicide bombings compelled President Déby to announce he was withdrawing the Chadian contingent because “The Chadian army does not have the skills to fight a shadowy, guerrilla-style war that is taking place in northern Mali” (Reuters, April 14, 2013).

Some observers have contrasted the Chadian military’s performance in Mali with their more controversial intervention in the Central African Republic from 2013-2014, where they were accused of political manipulation, arming the Séléka [4] rebels and brutality towards the non-Muslim population that culminated in the massacre of 30 unarmed civilians and the wounding of 300 others when they opened fire on a crowded Bangui market without apparent provocation. [5]

While there was much that was questionable and even indefensible in the performance of Chad’s army in the CAR, it must be recognized that the troops were carrying out N’Djamena’s own agenda in the country, which both modern Chad and pre-colonial sultanates in that region have always regarded as a political and economic hinterland (and prime source of slaves for Chad’s pre-colonial Islamic sultanates) whose rulers were determined by their northern neighbors. In this case, Déby pursued an agenda that involved installing a pliant, Muslim-dominated government in the CAR that would secure the oilfields of southern Chad and prevent opposition forces from using the CAR as a staging-post. Ultimately, pursuit of this policy led to large-scale protests against the Chadians in Bangui and the withdrawal of the Chadian mission.

Chad – A Growing Military Favorite of France and the United States

Chad’s more serious approach to military development and reform has attracted the support of the United States, which now finds serious flaws in its former Nigerian security partner. U.S. training programs and arms sales have broken down in recent years as a result of American concerns with human rights abuses, corruption in the officer corps, infiltration of the Nigerian security forces by Boko Haram and the failure of Nigerian forces to act on U.S.-supplied intelligence (New York Times, January 24, 2015). American concerns with infiltration are not unjustified; a number of senior Nigerian officers have been charged with divulging intelligence to Boko Haram.

Chad is currently host to Flintlock 2015, this year’s version of Flintock, a U.S.-led multinational military exercise conducted by Special Operations Command Forward – West Africa in the interests of improving cooperation and capacity in Saharan counter-terrorism operations. The three-week exercise, which began on February 16, involves more than 100 soldiers from the U.S. 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) as well as trainers from a number of Western nations.

Though President Déby was publicly musing about expelling all French troops from Chad only a few years ago, there has since been an about face on this policy, with Chad welcoming a boost in French forces as part of France’s major redeployment of its military forces in Africa, a shift in focus to mobile counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency units and bases known as Operation Barkhane. As part of this redeployment, French forces in Chad were boosted from 950 to 1250 men, with N’Djamena providing the overall command center at Kossei airbase, with two smaller bases in northern Chad at Faya Largeau and Abéché, both close to the Libyan border. Chadian opposition parties and human rights organizations were dismayed by the new agreement, which appears to legitimize and even guarantee the continued rule of President Idris Déby, who has held power since 1990 (RFI, July 19).

France is currently mounting reconnaissance missions in the Lake Chad border area and is supplying intelligence, fuel and munitions to the military coalition as well as providing ten military specialists to help coordinate military operations from Diffa in Niger (Reuters, February 5, 2015).

Despite the presence of roughly 200 ethnic groups in Chad, the military continues to be dominated by members of President Déby’s northern Zaghawa group despite being only somewhere between 2 to 4% of the population. This situation, however, seems to trouble President Déby more than it does his French and American allies.

The MJTF is slated to be replaced by an expanded and African Union-mandated version of 8750 men that will include troops from Benin as well as Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon. Logistical and intelligence support will be supplied by France and the United States. Command of the new force will rotate amongst member nations, beginning with Nigeria. The force is proposed to include the following contributions of troops: Nigeria 3500; Chad 3500; Cameroon 750; Niger 750; Benin 250 (BBC, February 25, 2015). A mandate for the mission from the UN Security Council is being sought with French support; this would provide greater funding and access to equipment and training.

Conclusion

If Chad succeeds where Nigeria failed, the result might be a collapse in confidence in Nigeria’s federal government leading to a further break-up of the country as various regions and ethnic groups seek to provide for their own security. The trick will be how to integrate Nigerian forces into the multinational group’s operations despite a well-deserved lack of confidence in the Nigerian military’s ability to mount operations or safeguard intelligence, especially in the midst of a Nigerian presidential campaign pitting a northern Muslim against the southern Christian incumbent. At the moment, there is little cooperation between the various militaries in the Lake Chad region as each continues to operate largely independently – a state of affairs Abuja appears to favor. This appears to be a Nigerian vote in favor of continuing the regional status quo, in which multilateral cooperation is lacking, trade minimal and effective transportation networks so absent that it is impeding the struggle against Boko Haram. As one recent report noted, “it is still easier to fly to Europe from Nigeria than to any of Chad, Niger and Cameroon.” [6]

Given the resilient nature of Boko Haram, its appeal to local religious extremists and its growing connections to the international jihadi community, it is worth asking whether the Chadian deployment will have to be open-ended in order to prevent a Boko Haram revival even in the event current operations destroy existing militant formations. Nigeria’s military will not become reliable or capable overnight regardless of what types of weapons the government obtains during its current buying campaign from international illegal arms markets. An extended stay will be expensive for N’Djamena, which is suffering from a sharp decline in oil prices, but if the costs are covered by the West and compensation is offered in terms of French and American advanced training and arms for the elite corps of the Chadian military, the prospect might take on a greater appeal for Déby and his Zaghawa-dominated regime. However, Chad’s army remains small, and the current tempo of operations cannot be maintained for long. There is a window of opportunity now for the destruction of Boko Haram, but it is slowly being shut by political considerations in the Nigerian capital.

Notes

1. Boko Haram spokesman Abu Musab al-Barnawi recently described the Hausa-language term “Boko Haram” (loosely translated as “Western education is forbidden”) as a media invention designed to denigrate the Islamist movement, which he insisted be described in future using its full and official name: “We say that we did not name ourselves “Boko Haram. “Our call is not limited to prohibiting foreign schools and democracy. We are Jama’at Ahl al-Sunnah Lil Dawa wal Jihad. Therefore, this name [Boko Haram] is an attempt to bury the truth. We carry out the support for the Sunnah and establish governance of Allah in the land” (Premium Times [Abuja], January 21, 2015).

2. An amateur video purporting to show a hot firefight between Chadian troops and Boko Haram fighters can be seen at a pro-Chadian government news-site: http://www.alwihdainfo.com/L-armee-tchadienne-enchaine-d-ecrasantes-victoires-le-Nigeria-predit-la-fin-de-Boko-Haram_a15031.html Though there is the continual sound of gunfire it is difficult to tell whether any of the rounds are actually incoming. There are no apparent Chadian casualties despite the failure of many of the soldiers to seek any kind of cover; at one point a soldier crosses in front of the Chadian firing line without suffering harm. More credible video of Chadian operations in Nigeria can be seen at: http://www.france24.com/en/20150219-video-chadian-army-clashes-with-boko-haram-nigeria/

3. For the Bakassi dispute, see: Andrew McGregor, “Cameroon Rebels Threaten Security in Oil-Rich Gulf of Guinea,” Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor 8(43), November 24, 2013, http://www.jamestown.org/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=37208&no_cache=1#.VPDWei5cvfY

4. Séléka was a coalition led by the now-exiled Michel Djotodia and composed of the following groups: Front démocratique du peuple centrafricain (FDPC – led by General Abdoulaye Miskine [real name Martin Koumtamadji], a career rebel/freebooter in the Chad/CAR border region); Convention des patriotes pour la justice et la paix (CPJP); Union des Forces Démocratiques pour le Rassemblement, UFDR; Convention Patriotique pour le Salut du Kodro (CPSK); and the Alliance pour la renaissance et la refondation (A2R).

5. United Nations Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, Press briefing notes on Central African Republic and Somalia, Geneva, April 4, 2014, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14471&LangID=E

6. Onyedimmakachukwu, “It’s Time for Lake Chad Countries to Move from War Comrades to Business Partners,” February 24, 2015, http://www.ventures-africa.com/2015/02/its-time-for-lake-chad-countries-to-move-from-war-comrades-to-business-partners/

Attack on Chinese Company in Cameroon Drags Yaoundé into Campaign against Boko Haram

Andrew McGregor

May 30, 2014

An assault on a Chinese road-building camp in northern Cameroon is the latest in a series of regional attacks on Chinese workers and facilities. The camp with 52 staff was run by a Sinohydro engineering unit involved in road improvement as part of a joint World Bank/Cameroon government project. Close to the camp is an oil exploration site run by Yan Chang Logone Development Holding Company, a subsidiary of China’s Yanchang Petroleum (Reuters, May 20). The exploration group is working in the Logone-Birni basin in north Cameroon.

The night-time attack, believed to have been the work of Nigeria’s Boko Haram movement, overcame resistance from a much-diminished Cameroonian guard force before the attackers seized ten Chinese employees, wounded another and lifted ten Sinohydro vehicles as well as blasting equipment used in road construction (Xinhua, May 18). China has expressed concern over the possibility of military action to rescue the hostages: “We urge the Cameroonian authorities not to put the lives of the Chinese nationals missing in danger if actions to liberate them are launched” (China Daily/Xinhua, May 19). France quickly offered its assistance to China in finding the ten missing workers (AFP, May 18).

Cameroon’s New Chinese-made Tank Destroyers on Parade, May 20, 2014 (IHS-Jane’s)

The timing of the attack appears to have been well-planned, coming as most of the camp’s guard from the elite Brigade d’intervention rapide (BIR) was in Yaoundé preparing to take part in a military parade marking Cameroon’s national day on May 20 (This Day [Lagos], May 17). Pursuit by Cameroonian air assets was also impossible as the helicopters normally deployed to the frontier region were also in the capital for the military parade (AFP, May 18). Ironically, the parade’s highlight was Cameroon’s newly acquired Chinese armor, including two platoons of Type 07P infantry fighting vehicles (equipped with a 30 mm gun and a coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun) and three platoons of PTL-102-type armored tank destroyers (equipped with a 105 mm gun). The new armored vehicles are part of Cameroon’s Bataillon Blindé de Reconnaissance (BBR – Armored Reconnaissance Battalion) (Cameroon Tribune, May 21; IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, May 21). On May 26, the BIR returned north to the Nigerian frontier along with some of Cameroon’s new Chinese-built armored vehicles. The force of roughly 1,000 troops is expected to join 700 other troops already deployed to the frontier region in March to combat Boko Haram (Reuters, May 27).

The attack also came at the same time Cameroonian president Paul Biya was in Paris attending the “Paris Summit for Security in Nigeria” with high-level representatives from Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Benin, the UK, France and the United States. Cameroon has committed to joining Nigeria, Benin, Niger and Chad in contributing one battalion each of troops dedicated to combatting Boko Haram (Vanguard [Lagos], May 20). An existing joint force of troops from Nigeria, Niger and Chad has been largely ineffective in halting cross-border violence.  Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan recently complained that Nigerian forces are unable to pursue Boko Haram forces when they cross the border without getting special permission from Yaoundé (Daily Trust [Lagos], May 19). Cameroon is now in the process of creating military bases in all ten regions of the country to improve local security as regional conditions deteriorate (Cameroon Post, May 18).

On the same night as the raid on the Chinese camp, gunmen also looted a police armory in Waza National Park, where Boko Haram is believed to be responsible for the kidnapping of a French family of seven last year (the family was later released, though it was unclear whether a ransom was paid). The attackers also destroyed a bridge linking different communities in the area, a tactic likely designed to inhibit the movement of security forces in the area. Several weeks earlier, Boko Haram attacked a military post 37 miles from the town of Waza to free a detained member (VOA, May 17). Waza is only 12 miles from the Nigerian border and the Sambisi Forest, a main base for Boko Haram and the suspected origin of the attacking force.

The Chinese operations in northern Cameroon are part of China’s rapidly expanding role in Cameroon’s economy. China is now Cameroon’s number one customer for exports and became that nation’s second-largest oil producer in 2011 after Sinopec purchased former Shell interests in Cameroon, uniting with Cameroon’s National Hydrocarbon Corporation as a junior partner in the newly formed Addax Petroleum Cameroon Company (APCC). [1] China has also become a major arm supplier for Cameroon and is currently building two ships for use by the Cameroon Navy.

Note

1. John Daly, “Cameroon, West Africa’s Latest Oil Battleground,” March 25, 2012, http://oilprice.com/Energy/Crude-Oil/Cameroon-West-Africas-Latest-Oil-Battleground.html

This article was published in the May 30, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Alleged Connection between Boko Haram and Nigeri’s Fulani Herdsmen Could Spark a Civil War

Andrew McGregor

May 15, 2014

In recent weeks, Nigerian security forces have claimed that some groups of semi-nomadic Fulani herdsmen engaged in bitter and bloody conflicts with farmers in several Nigerian states are actually composed of members of Boko Haram. A statement from Nigerian Director of Defense Information Major General Chris Olukolade claimed the potentially dangerous identification came during the interrogation of Fulani herdsmen arrested after a series of killings and arson attacks in Taraba State (Vanguard [Lagos], April 23; Leadership [Abuja], April 24; Nigerian Tribune, April 24). Reports of Boko Haram members (who are mostly members of the Kanuri ethno-cultural group) disguising themselves as Fulani herdsmen while carrying out attacks in rural Nigeria are common. Though many of these reports may be attempts to deflect responsibility from Fulani herders for attacks on sedentary farming communities throughout north and central Nigeria, even the perception that the Fulani herdsmen have joined forces with Boko Haram could propel Nigeria into a new and devastating civil war.