The Islamic State’s Mysterious Claim to Have Killed Canadian Troops in Lake Chad

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Report

December 15, 2020

The Islamic State – West Africa Province (ISWAP) claims to have killed four Canadian soldiers and “dozens” of Chadian troops on November 24 when an IED exploded under their boat on Lake Chad. The survivors were then targeted by fire from automatic weapons onshore (RocketChat, November 26, 2020). The incident occurred at Ngouboua on the Chadian side of Lake Chad, opposite the Borno stronghold of Boko Haram and its splinter group, ISWAP. N’Djamena acknowledged only four Chadian dead and 16 wounded, with no mention of Canadians. ISWAP repeated the claim on its Amaq news-site on November 26, saying the heavy losses suffered by Canadian and Chadian forces had prevented an attack on ISWAP units near Ngouboua (BBCM, November 27, 2020).

A December 8 AIS query to Canada’s Department of National Defence regarding these reports received the following response: “The claim that Canadian soldiers were killed or at all involved in this incident is completely untrue.”


The struggle between BH/ISWAP and the Chadian military has grown even more bitter this year as it continues to intensify. During a counter-terrorist offensive in the Lake Chad region, 92 Chadian soldiers were killed and 47 wounded in a March 23 Boko Haram attack on Boma (Lac Province). On April 18, 44 Boko Haram prisoners were found dead in a Chadian prison while awaiting trial. Post-mortem examinations detected toxic substances in their stomachs; Chad’s justice minister Djimet Arabi suggested “collective suicide” (AFP April 18, 2020). The incident came two days after the Islamic State mocked Chad and the March Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) offensive in an editorial in its al-Naba weekly magazine.

The various al-Qaeda and Islamic State-aligned militants operating in the Sahel region of Africa (including the Lake Chad region) are now opposed by a much larger array of counter-terrorist forces involving the militaries of some 60 nations.  These include forces belonging to the following formations:

  • France’s 5,100-man Operation Barkhane, launched in August 2014 as the successor to the 2013 Operation Serval intervention in Mali;
  • Operation Takuba, a multinational European Special Forces effort to relieve pressure on the French military, which has lost over 50 men in combat operations in the region since 2013. Fifty members of the Estonian Special Forces deployed in October; they will soon be joined by Czech and Swedish detachments. Another nine European NATO nations have pledged participation;
  • The Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), a regional anti-Boko Haram security force which includes components from Niger, Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon and Benin;
  • The G5 Sahel Joint Force, the military arm of the Group of Five – Sahel, which includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger;
  • The Mission multidimensionnelle intégrée des Nations unies pour la stabilisation au Mali (MINUSMA), a UN peacekeeping force with contributions from some 55 nations. This month the UK sent 300 troops to join the force, which has suffered over 200 dead since its launch in 2013;
  • Ongoing EU and US training missions in the Sahel.

The one thing common to all these counter-terrorist efforts is that Canada does not belong to any of them. So how does the death of four Canadian Special Forces members come to be proclaimed in an Islamic State announcement?

Background: Attacks on Chadian Forces in Lake Chad

Chadian president Idriss Déby Itno insisted in early April that all Boko Haram elements had been cleared from the islands of Lake Chad ( [N’Djamena], April 4, 2020). The Islamic State, however, is determined to use the opportunity presented by regional states currently diverting their attention from security operations in favor of direly needed public health measures and economic reconstruction to correct the damage done to already fragile economies by COVID-19.

ISWAP intensified their operations in the region around the Chadian village of Ngouboua later in April, with an attack on the shores of Lake Chad between the villages of Litri and Ngouboua on the 17th. Equipped with firearms, the extremists damaged one boat and seized some weapons (RocketChat, April 19, 2020). ISWAP later videotaped the execution of a Chadian prisoner taken in the attack (AFP, April 27, 2020).  

ISWAP Patrol

In July, ten Chadian soldiers were killed and another 20 wounded by an ISWAP IED in the village of Kalam on Lake Chad (al-Wihda [N’Djamena], July 10, 2020).

ISWAP issued a statement on November 20 describing the remote detonation of an IED against a troop-carrying boat on the 18th between the villages of Goboa and Litri that killed “dozens” (RocketChat, November 20, 2020). Four days later, Chad reported the loss of four soldiers and 16 wounded after a boat near Ngouboua hit an underwater IED (Al-Wihda [N’Djamena], November 25, 2020).

Since the Ngoubouoa attack, ISWAP claims to have pursued its campaign against Chadian troops on Lake Chad with a December 1 IED attack on two boats carrying Chadian troops near Ngouboua, allegedly killing 30 soldiers, though this report remains uncorroborated (RocketChat, December 8, 2020).

Jihadist activity has grown intense in the tri-border region where Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet. After pulling back from cooperative military efforts earlier this year due to a perceived lack of international support, President Déby recently committed to the “quick” deployment of a Chadian battalion in the tri-border region, where it will likely be involved in heavy fighting (Al-Wihda [N’Djamena], December 1, 2020).

Canada’s Operation Presence-Mali 

Having made repeated commitments to favor peacekeeping efforts over the counter-terrorism deployments of the Conservative government during the 2015 national election, the incoming Liberal government eventually committed to a modest contribution to the MINUSMA peacekeeping operation in Mali that involved little chance of encountering armed jihadists. The mission, limited to a strict timeline of August 1 2018 to July 31, 2019, consisted of a medevac helicopter squadron of 3 CH-147F Chinooks and 5 CH-146 Griffons that could also transport UN personnel and equipment in the region. Ultimately, the Canadian Forces’ Task Force Mali would conduct 11 medical evacuations and over 100 transport missions.

Far from addressing the menace of terrorism and extremism to the impoverished population of the Sahel, the Canadian mission arrived bent under the burden of Justin Trudeau’s liberal vision of the military as a band of uniformed social-workers engaged in a battle against climate change and gender inequality. More importantly, Operation Presence-Mali was a political mission – an unwelcome necessity required to further the Prime Minister’s vain efforts to obtain a rotating seat on the UN’s Security Council. In the end, Canada’s contribution, competent in itself and surely appreciated by the wounded soldiers it assisted, contributed nothing to the elimination of terrorism in the Sahel and the UNSC seat never materialized. When Trudeau visited the Canadian troops in Mali in December 2018, his main message to them did not concern the importance of ending terrorism, but rather the importance of ending the Canadian mission on time. Statements from government and party officials emphasized the safety of the members of the mission, to the point it began to appear that ensuring its own safety was the mission’s primary goal.

RCAF Helicopters over Mali (Corporal Ken Beliwicz/Canada DND/CAF)

The Canadian deployment was scheduled to end in mid-summer 2019, but Canada agreed to an extension of one month. Though their Romanian replacements could not begin their deployment until mid-October 2019, the Canadian government repeatedly dismissed all appeals from the UN and its allies to cover the gap between deployments. With only days left before withdrawal, the government agreed to provide transport to the Romanians and a small transition team to work with early Romanian arrivals using contracted helicopters, though the latter were not properly equipped for medical emergencies (CP, August 28, 2019).

Then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland offered that the Canadian mission had taken “tangible steps to secure lasting peace and stability for the people of Mali,” but failed to explain just how a small 12-month air-ambulance and transport deployment accomplished this (DND News Release, August 31, 2019).

In reference to the mission, Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan declared “Canada will continue its support to the UN while leading the inclusion of women in peace operations” (DND News Release, August 31, 2019).  Following a series of scandals involving UN peacekeepers and an assessment that male peacekeepers lacked understanding of, or empathy with the needs of women trapped in combat zones, there have been many international calls for a greater number of female peacekeepers. Sajjan, however, appears to have missed the point – the calls are for more women on the front-lines of peacekeeping operations, not in rear areas with little or no contact with the local population.

Other Canadian Military Deployments in the Sahel

Unlike France’s impressive Operation Barkhane, existing Canadian operations in the Sahel are small and little-known even in Canada, involving no direct confrontations with terrorists or religious extremists.

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) run a training program in Niger for members of the Forces armées nigériennes (FAN), Niger’s national army. Known as Operation Naberius, the program involves up to 50 CAF Special Forces troops per year and is scheduled to run until March 2023.

Using RCAF Globemaster III and Hercules transports, Canada’s Operation Frequence has assisted in the movement from France of French military equipment and personnel belonging to Operation Barkhane. The operation has no presence on land in the Sahel.

The Liberal Party’s 2019 election platform proclaimed: “We will renew Canada’s commitment to peacekeeping efforts, and use the expertise of our Armed Forces to help others prepare for climate-related disasters.” By August 2020, Canada’s global peacekeeping deployment consisted of a mere 34 police officers and military personnel (CP, August 3, 2020). By comparison, in 1992, Canada had 3,285 peacekeepers serving abroad.

Justin Trudeau’s dismissive attitude towards the armed forces (a legacy of his late father, Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau) and rejection of the use of force against terrorists became evident when Islamic State radicals rampaged through northern Iraq in 2014. As appeals poured in for military assistance to end the IS atrocities, Trudeau instead asked: “Why aren’t we talking more about the kind of humanitarian aid that Canada can and must be engaged in, rather than trying to whip out our CF-18s and show them how big they are?” (CTV News, October 2, 2014).

After the 2016 Islamist terrorist attacks in Nice, France, Trudeau insisted that “Canada stands with France as a steadfast ally [and will] continue to work with our allies and partners to fight terrorism in all its forms” (CP, July 15, 2016). In reality, fighting terrorism in any of its forms has not materialized as a priority of the Trudeau government and Canada has done little to “stand with France as a steadfast ally.”

Unfortunately, Canada’s timid approach to counter-terrorism and peacekeeping may be spreading to its allies. The arrival of 300 UK troops in Mali this month was expected to add a sharp edge to MINUSMA, which has suffered some 200 deaths from IEDs and clashes with regional jihadists.

Trained in long-range desert reconnaissance, a task force formed from the Royal Anglian and Light Dragoon regiments using “Jackal” armored fighting vehicles will now instead perform training duties at a UN camp in Gao, with reconnaissance operations restricted to a 10-mile radius around the base. According to a Ministry of Defence spokesman, the British forces will remain at the base “until they know it’s safe” (Sun [London], November 16, 2020). The last-minute change to the mission’s operational mandate shocked MINUSMA’s Swedish commander, Lieutenant General Dennis Gyllensporre, who declared he did not need any more troops limited to their own bases.


To return to our original question – how does the death of four Canadian Special Forces members come to be proclaimed in an Islamic State announcement? A case of mistaken identity seems impossible; neither France nor any other European state has acknowledged the loss of four of its Special Forces. Chadian soldiers are well-known to ISWAP and unlikely to be confused for Canadians. Could this have been a warning from the Islamic State, a projection of the kind of losses Ottawa could expect in a future deployment to the Sahel? For reasons of Canadian policy, this too seems unlikely.

According to then-Foreign Minister Freeland, “It is precisely the democracies, it is precisely the countries that stand for values and human rights that also need to be ready to say we are prepared to use hard power where necessary” (CBC News, June 10, 2017). Despite this declaration, the Canadian government continues to shun “hard power” and deny its allies and the UN access to its large pool of highly capable French-speaking troops ready and capable to take on difficult tasks in the Francophone Sahel region. Even as Canadian citizens have been killed across the globe by the Islamic State and its affiliates during the Trudeau government (now in its second term), the Liberal Party has remained attached to the 1990s concept of “soft power,” or the ability to exert influence in global affairs by non-violent means. In these circumstances, a Canadian combat mission in the Sahel would seem to be the last thing the Islamic State needs to worry about.

Does Canada Want to Combat Terrorism in Africa? Forget UN Peacekeeping – Support the Sahel G5

Andrew McGregor

AIS Commentary, July 24, 2017

Canada’s Trudeau government announced last summer that it was prepared to deploy up to 600 troops on a UN peacekeeping mission, likely in Africa. In the meantime, no movement has been made on the pledge, much to the disappointment of the UN and Canada’s allies, who were holding the leadership of the Mali peacekeeping mission open for a Canadian officer. Now, however, a non-UN alternative has emerged, one that is desperately needed and has both a military and development component – the Sahel Group of Five (SG5).

It is perhaps not surprising that no decision has been made regarding a Canadian peacekeeping force in Africa. While Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks of a need for Canada to set a “clear and sovereign course” independent of the United States, both Prime Minister Trudeau and his defence minister Harjit Singh Sajjan have emphasized the importance of consulting Washington before making any decision. Given the Trump administration’s disengagement from Africa and the urgency of a military contribution in Africa, such deference seems unnecessary and counterproductive.

The Purpose of the SG5

In the Sahel, a broad band of arid nations just below the Sahara, political and religious extremism feed off climate change, lack of development, absence of infrastructure, competition for resources and ethnic rivalries, leaving the region in dire need of external assistance and internal reform. Meanwhile, efforts to address these issues are restricted by al-Qaeda and Islamic State terrorism paid for by trafficking in narcotics, migrants and other “commodities.” The region’s barely existent borders make a mockery of unilateral efforts by weak states to address the crime and violence.

With the encouragement of France, the Sahelian nations of Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and Mauritania created the Sahel Group of Five (SG5) as a multilateral response to these issues in 2014, though the concept remained dormant until its revival last February. While the force’s mandate calls for a campaign against terrorism and trafficking, it also calls for the return of displaced persons, delivery of aid, facilitation of humanitarian operations and a role in implementing development strategies.

Each nation will initially provide a battalion of 750 men aided by French training, communications and logistical support. The military component will operate in all five countries, with the right of “hot pursuit” across international borders. The first military leader of the force will be Malian chief-of-staff General Didier Dacko, an experienced and capable veteran of counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency operations.

The UN Security Council unanimously “welcomed” a resolution calling for the formation of the force on June 21, though US pressure prevented approval for its deployment under a UN mandate, which would have involved UN financing. The Trump administration is seeking to reduce its contribution to UN peacekeeping costs but the US can still be expected to continue providing intelligence and logistical support for counter-terrorist efforts in the Sahel.

Putting the SG5 into action is expected to come with a budget of over €400 million. The EU has pledged €50 million, France €8 million (on top of a substantial military contribution) and each of the SG5 nations will contribute €10 million. France has additionally pledged €200 million in development assistance. Angela Merkel has also promised the support of Germany, which already has 650 troops in Mali and the United Arab Emirates have expressed interest in funding the initiative. The force will seek additional funding from “bilateral and multilateral partners” at a future donors’ conference.

Other than France and Belgium, Canada is the only Western partner with a large military and civil French language capacity, making it ideal for deployment in the francophone Sahel. Canadian contributions in terms of combat troops, logistics, intelligence, training, humanitarian assistance and development planning would greatly reduce the unfunded portion of the SG5’s annual budget while simultaneously improving the capability of all these elements.

Of the contributing Sahel nations, Chad is the most militarily effective, but existing commitments to the UN peacekeeping operation in Mali (MINUSMA) and the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), a regional coalition formed to tackle Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin, have forced Chad’s President Idris Déby to warn that substantial assistance will be required for Chad to play its expected role in the SG5. Without Chad’s participation, the alliance stands little chance of battlefield success.

Mali’s government has criticized MINUSMA for its “defensive posture, which has given freedom of movement to terrorist and extremist groups.” The UN’s peacekeepers in Mali have made only glacial progress implementing the terms of the 2015 peace agreement. The force suffers inordinate casualties while doing little to combat terrorism in the region, a task largely left to French troops operating outside of UN auspices.  MINUSMA is hampered by the restriction of its operations to territory within Mali’s borders, while its terrorist opponents face no such limits. The SG5 addresses this problem.

As the lone Western sponsor of the SG5 and the former colonial power in each of the participating nations, there is some anxiety that France will exploit the group for its own political and economic benefit. The presence of another less-interested sponsor could provide some balance and reassurance to those African nations already experiencing the strong influence of Paris in their affairs. It might also encourage a more favorable attitude to the force from Algeria, where the bitter legacy of the war for independence has led to great suspicion of all French security efforts in the Sahel.

Not Without Difficulties

Of course participation would not be without problems. A Canadian commitment would have to be long term – creating a capable SG5 could take three years and creating a uniform military standard will be difficult. However, it need not be open-ended; the ultimate goal must always be for the Sahel nations to assume full responsibility.

If funding is limited, security operations will almost certainly be treated as a priority over other aspects of the G5S mandate, based on the harsh reality that violent extremism undermines the effectiveness of all other programs as well as the sovereignty of regional states. At present, aid workers are regarded by the region’s militant groups as nothing more than easy prey and a source of funding through ransom.

Integration of alienated groups into security and development operations will be essential if the SG5 is to be prevented from becoming a transnational occupation force. This cannot be achieved without offering economic alternatives to rebellion and cross-border crime, emphasizing the importance of the development component.

Despite fears that France may be looking to draw down their African commitment, President Emmanuel Macron has pledged continued French support and has already visited the region twice to confirm this commitment.  There is no doubt, however, that Paris is seeking to reduce its military expenditure in Africa – Operation Barkhane, its 4,000 man mission to provide security in the Sahara/Sahel region, costs €800 million per year.


A religious adherence to UN peacekeeping as the only legitimate or desirable means of contributing to international security turns a blind eye to less rigid and more adaptive structures free of UN bureaucracy and inefficiency.

For a Canadian government increasingly seen as soft on terrorism, unwilling to rescue or ransom its Canadian victims but eager to reward Canadian-born practitioners, the need for some sort of dedication to international counter-terrorism efforts might seem obvious. The SG5 provides an opportunity for Canada to stand beside its European allies, set an independent course from Washington and play a meaningful role in destroying Africa’s deadliest extremist groups while engaging in important development assistance where it is needed most.

If Ottawa’s aim in African security operations is to encounter minimal difficulties and avoid casualties, the SG5 will not be for them. If, however, Canada is ready to give its highly capable military and development sector a real challenge with the potential of providing a secure future to some of the world’s most impoverished peoples, then it should take a serious look at the SG5 alternative.

According to Foreign Minister Freeland, “it is precisely the countries that stand for values and human rights that also need to be ready to say we are prepared to use hard power where necessary.” If the world “needs more Canada,” the Sahel is in special need of a Canadian presence.

Dr. Andrew McGregor is the Director of Aberfoyle International Security, a Toronto-based agency specializing in security issues in the African and Islamic worlds.

Looking for War in All the Wrong Places: Canada’s Search for a UN Peacekeeping Mission in Africa

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Commentary

July 21, 2016

Canada PK MemorialCanadian Peacekeeping Memorial, Ottawa (Frank Hudec/DND)

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded with familiar platitudes following the brutal terrorist attack in Nice, offering “sympathy” while claiming “Canada stands with France as a steadfast ally” that will “continue to work with our allies and partners to fight terrorism in all its forms.” [i]

Yet taking the fight to the enemy is apparently not in the cards; Canada’s Liberals have no taste for a direct confrontation with the Islamic State organization.

Liberal defence policy is grounded in a belief that Canada is a “peacekeeping” rather than “peacemaking” country, and the search is now underway to find a politically appropriate place to resume large-scale peacekeeping duties, preferably African, preferably Francophone and definitely under UN auspices. These parameters immediately disqualify action against Islamic State or al-Qaeda affiliates in the most active fronts; Libya, Nigeria and Somalia. Libya and Nigeria have no peacekeeping missions and Somalia’s peacekeeping mission (actually a European-financed war against al-Shabaab) is conducted by the African Union, not the UN. So what’s left? Let’s have a look at the nine candidate missions in Africa, most of which are dominated by personnel from non-allied nations:

MINURSO – Western Sahara

Going strong since 1991, MINURSO is the African equivalent of the Cyprus peacekeeping operation (1964 to present); a seemingly endless mission with no apparent resolution in sight. Why? Because, like Turkey and Greece in Cyprus, the Western Sahara issue is manipulated by two implacable rivals (Morocco and Algeria in this case) as a form of proxy war that spares the economic and political disruption that would be created by a real war between the two nations. MINURSO is the only UN mission to be distinguished by an absence of any human rights mandate, meaning it can only watch abuses without intervention. However, the end to this mission may be in sight – Morocco has begun shutting down MINURSO operations in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, claiming the UN has abandoned its neutral stance in the region.

Experience – Canada contributed 35 peacekeepers to MINURSO between 1991 and 1995.

Mission Fatalities – 15[ii]

Desirability – Minimal

Language Compatibility[iii] – Minimal (Spanish and Arabic)

Risk to Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel – Minimal

Political Payoff – Minimal


MINUSCA – Central African Republic

MINUSCA has struggled to cope with savage sectarian violence since April 2014, but its extended mandate is up at the end of the month. France is reducing the size of its own independent deployment though bandits and gunmen still roam much of the nation. A South African effort to intervene in the conflict ended in military disaster and withdrawal in 2013.[iv] The UN mission has been rife with accusations of child sexual abuse and rape, with an entire contingent of 800 Congolese peacekeepers being sent home. Peacekeepers from France, Burundi, Tanzania, Morocco and several other countries are being investigated on similar charges with new cases emerging all the time. MINUSCA is unusual in that it has a mandate to take military action to disarm and neutralize rebel fighters, though this goal sometimes appears to be of secondary importance for the UN peacekeepers.

Experience – Canada contributed an 80-man French-speaking signals unit from 1998-99 to MINURCA, an earlier UN peacekeeping effort in the CAR.

Fatalities – 22

Desirability – Minimal

Language Compatibility – Optimal (French)

Risk to CAF personnel – Significant

Political Payoff – Moderate

Canada PK MINUSMAMINUSMA Patrol, Northern Mali


MINUSMA is undoubtedly the most dangerous of all the potential missions, with 101 Peacekeepers killed since April 2013.

France is conducting counter-terrorism operations in northern Mali together with its regional partners Chad and Niger as part of Operation Barkhane. As part of MINUSMA, Canadian troops would not participate in such operations, though it would be able to operate alongside NATO allies Germany (400 troops divided between MINUSMA and an EU training mission) and Holland (400 troops in MINUSMA but in the process of withdrawing four vitally needed Apache attack helicopters plus three utility helicopters). MINUSMA’s mandate has been renewed until June 2017 and it is adding another 2,000 personnel.

Mali is certainly in great need of any professional assistance as terrorism begins to spread into the previously unaffected south, where most of the population lives. Of all the possible operations, this would have the greatest direct impact so far as countering terrorism.

As conditions worsen in Mali, the UN has pledged to take a more “active and robust” approach to applying its mandate of enforcing the peace agreement and restoring government authority.[v] However, whatever good work is accomplished by the UN mission is steadily undone by the Malian Army’s determination to return to the same brutal treatment of civilians that inspired the 2012 rebellion.

Fatalities – 101

Desirability – Optimal

Language Compatibility – Optimal (French)

Risk to CAF personnel – Significant

Political Payoff – Optimal


MONUSCO – Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Established under an earlier name in 1999 to monitor a peace agreement, this mission has grown into the UN’s largest and most expensive peacekeeping mission with no end in sight. Since its start, MONUSCO has become entangled in a series of new conflicts and now acts more as a support unit for the ineffective Congolese Army than a peacekeeping mission. Even for peacekeepers with access to modern medical facilities (unlike the local population), service in the Congo can be perilous; over half of the mission’s 263 fatalities are from illness.


MONUSCO peacekeepers have been accused of trading ammunition and rations for ivory, drugs and locally mined gold. In 2012 they abandoned the city of Goma to a much inferior rebel force claiming they were only authorized to protect civilians. The unarmed civilians of Goma were, of course, left to their fate. Despite the formation of a unique UN offensive combat formation known as the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), UN peacekeepers are no longer trusted locally to provide protection from rampaging rebel groups. In the violence-plagued North Kivu region, the UN’s peacekeepers are referred to as “tourists in helicopters.”[vi]

India, Bangladesh and Nepal are principal contributors to MONUSCO, though India is seeking to separate itself from a mission that has brought criticism and losses of personnel. MONUSCO’s mandate has been renewed until June 2017.

Fatalities – 263 since 1999 (includes MONUC before it was renamed MONUSCO)

Desirability – Minimal

Language Compatibility – Optimal (French)

Risk to CAF personnel – Moderate

Political Payoff – Moderate


UNAMID – Darfur

This joint UN/African Union mission has taken a heavy toll of peacekeepers killed (233 since July 2007) but has had little impact on Sudan’s counter-insurgency operations and their attendant atrocities. Its mandate has been renewed until June 30, 2017 despite the objections of Khartoum, which never wanted the mission in the first place. In the meantime Khartoum toys with UNAMID, denying it access to areas of conflict and holding up supply shipments and visas for UN officials.

Small to large scale attacks on peacekeepers in Darfur have been common from the beginning – some of these attacks are believed to have been carried out by government forces or their proxies in an attempt to force the peacekeepers out. UNAMID’s strategic goals are protection of civilians and humanitarian efforts – the mission takes no action against insurgents or government troops. The largest contributors to the mission are Rwanda, Ethiopia and Egypt. Despite having had little impact on the ongoing conflict (a remarkable 2.6 million people are still displaced), UNAMID is now the second largest UN peacekeeping force with an annual budget of $1.35 billion.

Experience – Canada contributed seven military administrators and armor trainers from 2007 to 2009.[vii]

Fatalities – 233

Desirability – Minimal

Language Compatibility – Minimal (Arabic)

Risk to CAF personnel – Significant

Political Payoff – Moderate


UNISFA – Abyei (Sudan/South Sudan)

The district of Abyei is home to a nasty little struggle over an oil-rich but otherwise innocuous piece of land on the border between Sudan and South Sudan. Since neither party could agree who owned the land, it was simply left out of the peace agreement establishing South Sudan’s independence– not a good sign that a resolution is impending. In the meantime, civilians take a beating through efforts to depopulate the area.  Established in 2011, UNIFSA is overwhelmingly Ethiopian in composition.

Fatalities – 20

Desirability – Minimal

Language Compatibility – Moderate (English)

Risk to CAF personnel – Moderate

Political Payoff – Minimal


UNMIL – Liberia

Established in 2003 UNMIL is an unlikely choice as it is in a draw-down phase after its annual budget reached an unsustainable $340 million. Pakistan, Bangladesh and Ethiopia are the main contributors.

Fatalities – 197

Desirability – Minimal

Language Compatibility – Moderate (English)

Risk to CAF personnel – Moderate

Political Payoff – Minimal


UNMISS – South Sudan

Canada PK UNMISSUNMISS Post, South Sudan

In the young nation of South Sudan power still comes from the mouth of a gun, as both the government and the army are divided by differences between the country’s two largest tribes, the Dinka and the Nuer. With nearly all the nation’s oil revenues spent on arms, South Sudan is awash in weapons. Raids, clashes, massacres and ambushes are South Sudan’s reality.

Without a mandate for intervention, UNMISS (formed in July 2011) can do little more than offer refuge in their camps to masses of civilians fleeing certain death. Much of the current struggle is fuelled by the ongoing proxy war between Sudan and Uganda, the latter deploying sizeable numbers of troops and armor in South Sudan. The fact that South Sudan sits on some of the world’s largest oil reserves has done nothing to discourage all manner of small armed movements from trying to seize their slice of petroleum revenues.

The African Union has agreed to deploy thousands more peacekeepers to reinforce UNMISS, though the plan is opposed by South Sudan president Salva Kiir Mayardit (a Dinka).[viii] Local protests against the UNMISS presence are common.

Experience – Canada had a limited contribution (45 peacekeepers) to UNMISS from 2005 to 2009.

Fatalities – 43

Desirability – Minimal

Language Compatibility – Moderate (English)

Risk to CAF personnel – Moderate to Significant

Political Payoff – Moderate

 Canada PK ONUCI

UNOCI – Côte d’Ivoire

These days UNOCI is a generally low-risk operation with a 2004 mandate for assisting the implementation of peace agreements following the 2003 (and later 2011) civil wars and providing disarmament and humanitarian assistance. UNOCI is currently trying to draw attention to the prevalence of rape and other sexual violence in Côte d’Ivoire, where two-thirds of such attacks are on children.

Experience – A small number of Canadian police served with UNOCI

Fatalities – 143

Desirability – Moderate

Language Compatibility – Optimal (French)

Risk to CAF personnel – Minimal

Political Payoff – Minimal



Rather than fighting al-Qaeda and the Islamic State organization alongside our allies, Ottawa now prefers to join the ranks of second-rate militaries from third-world countries that rent out ineffective troops for UN cash. Though many UN missions perform important work in both the military and humanitarian fields, the intractability of some conflicts is often aggravated by the UN military presence, which discourages any sense of urgency in reaching reconciliation, particularly if one party believes it can use the presence of a UN mission to further their own strategic goals. While joining a UN African peacekeeping mission satisfies a Liberal nostalgia for a largely mythical golden era of Pearsonian peacekeeping, it is also a means of sidestepping a confrontation with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State for domestic political considerations, a confrontation in which Canada’s professional military and Special Forces could make a meaningful contribution in direct support of our allies beyond meaningless expressions of sympathy and solidarity.


MINURSO – Misión de las Naciones Unidas para la Organización de un Referéndum en el Sáhara Occidental

MINUSCA – Mission multidimensionnelle intégrée des Nations unies pour la stabilisation en Centrafrique

MINUSMA – Mission multidimensionnelle intégrée des Nations unies pour la stabilisation au Mali

MONUCO – Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies en République démocratique du Congo

MONUSCO – Mission de l’Organisation des Nations unies pour la stabilisation en République démocratique du Congo

UNAMID – United Nations Mission in Darfur

UNIFSAUnited Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei

UNMIL – United Nations Mission in Liberia

UNMISS – United Nations Mission in South Sudan

UNOCI – United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire



[i] Canadian Press, July 15, 2016 –

[ii] Figures used for UN missions in Africa are taken from official UN sources:; Fatality statistics are taken from (as of June 7, 2016).

[iii] “Language Compatibility” refers to the language compatibility of the host nation in light of the government’s stated desire to have a French language mission – therefore “Optimal” = French language, “Moderate” = English, and “Minimal” = languages other than French or English.

[iv] See Andrew McGregor:  “South African Military Disaster in the Central African Republic: Part One – The Rebel Offensive,” Terrorism Monitor, April 4, 2013, ; “South African Military Disaster in the Central African Republic: Part Two – The Political and Strategic Fallout,” Terrorism Monitor, April 4, 2013,

[v] UN News Centre, “Security Council extends mandates of UN peacekeeping operations in Darfur, Golan and Mali,” June 29, 2016;

[vi] Al-Jazeera, January 19, 2016,

[vii] Government of Canada, “Archived – Canadian Forces Launches Contribution to U.N.- African Union Mission in Darfur,” CEFCOM/COMFEC NR 08.008 – February 4, 2008,

[viii] Radio Tamazuj, July 19, 2016,

Designed to Fail: The Congolese Army’s Sham Offensive against FDLR Rebels

Andrew McGregor

From Tips and Trends: The AIS African Security Report

Aberfoyle International Security, April 2015

 Despite positive reports from the Ministry of Defence, the Congolese Army’s offensive against Hutu rebels of the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is yielding little in the way of tangible results.

FDLR 1FARDC Tank on Operations in the Eastern Congo

Operation Sokolo II was launched in South Kivu province on February 24, 2015, with the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) deploying troops into the highlands of South Kivu near Uvira. Further deployments were made in North Kivu two days later. FARDC forces carrying out the offensive consist of three regiments with a total strength of approximately 7500 men. So far, the campaign has resulted in the death of only 13 FDLR insurgents, while a recent FDLR ambush in North Kivu killed ten Congolese soldiers, including two colonels (Reuters, April 8, 2015).

FARDC’s command has reported the capture of several dozen villages, but in many places in North Kivu there is no apparent movement by the Congolese army and unit commanders in the region have not received orders to engage the rebels (Reuters, March 22, 2015). Despite inflicting a small number of casualties on FDLR personnel, all indications suggest that most of the movement has melted into the region’s dense forests to outwait the offensive, knowing that FARDC is incapable of a prolonged field operation and has failed to arrange for sufficient numbers of troops to occupy those towns taken from the FDLR. Already there are reports that FARDC is forced to withdraw to larger centers at night, leaving FDLR the freedom to resupply themselves by night and remind locals of where true power lies in the region (Reuters, March 22, 2015).

Operation Sokolo II was intended to be a joint effort between FARDC and better equipped UN peacekeepers operating in the Congo, but the DRC government’s insistence that two Congolese generals suspected of various war crimes be included in the operation’s command structure led to a UN decision to withdraw from the offensive.


The FDLR was formed in September 2000 from the remains of earlier Hutu militant movements, including the Interahamwe organization responsible for the 1994 genocide of Rwandan Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus. By this point, twenty years later, few members of the FDLR outside the leadership played any role in the Rwandan genocide. As of December 2009, Major General Sylvestre Mudacumara was the FDLR’s overall military commander. Mudacumara, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, has a rival within the leadership in Victor Byiringiro, who has a greater interest in a political resolution with Rwanda (African Arguments, March 2, 2015).

Based in North Kivu, the FDLR cannot easily be brought to battle – it typically chooses a time and place of its own, prefers guerrilla-style strikes to conventional tactics and is highly integrated with the local population. Congolese Chief of General Staff of the Army, General Didier Etumba, estimates the FDLR’s strength as consisting of a maximum of 1400 fighters (Radio Okapi [Kinshasha], January 29, 2015).  A recent report from the Enough Project summed up the strategy used by the FDLR:

The FDLR’s current strategy is consistent with its long-time pattern of responding to military pressure. In this pattern, the group promises to disarm and reiterates its political aspirations for recognition as a Rwandan opposition group. The FDLR then uses any reprieve to regroup by building military alliances and increasing economic activity and recruitment. [1]

The FDLR has been relatively inactive in the last year, though keeping a low profile might be part of an effort to avoid the fate of the rebel M-23 organization (a.k.a. the Revolutionary Army of the Congo), which was eliminated by joint FARDC-MONUSCO operation in November 2013. Under an agreement supervised by regional organizations (including the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region and the Community of States of Southern Africa), the FDLR had pledged to conduct a voluntary demobilization and disarmament by January 2, 2015, but the small number of old and sick men who surrendered and the insignificant number of weapons that came with them was judged insufficient to mark compliance, thus opening the way for offensive operations against the remainder of the movement.

FDLR 2The Kivu region is rich in gold and minerals used in consumer electronics such as wolframite, coltan and cassiterite, though the 2012 implementation of the U.S. Dodd-Frank Act has made it more difficult for rebel groups to profit from the sale of the last three minerals (gold is nearly untraceable and finds ready buyers everywhere) (Mail & Guardian [Johannesburg], November 18, 2014).  However, like al-Shabaab in Somalia, the FDLR has turned to the environmentally harmful but lucrative charcoal trade as its greatest source of financing.

In the midst of the offensive, Major Zitunga Seraphin, the FDLR’s spokesman for international affairs, told a gathering of journalists that his movement has several demands for the FDLR’s peaceful return to Rwanda. These included justice for all Rwandan citizens and a willingness by the international community to look beyond the crimes of the Hutu to recognize those crimes allegedly committed by Rwanda’s ruling party, the Front Patriotique Rwandais (FPR) (La Rédaction [Kinshasha], March 6, 2015).


On March 26, the UN Security Council voted to extend the mandate of the Mission de l’Organisation des Nations unies pour la stabilisation en République démocratique du Congo (MONUSCO – United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) to March 31, 2016. The mission began its work in the DRC in 1999.

India is the largest contributor of the 30 nations that have sent troops to the 20,000 man MONUSCO force; other leading contributors include Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Egypt, Pakistan, South Africa, Tanzania and Uruguay.  Indian troops have been accused of abuses towards the civilian population as well as conducting illicit commercial exchanges with the FDLR. MONUSCO’s most capable component is its Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), formed by 3,000 elite troops from Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa. It is likely that the FIB’s impending deployment against the FDLR prompted that group’s sham surrender prior to the January 2, 2015 deadline as a means of buying time or discouraging an offensive by UN units. MONUSCO forces in the Congo come under the military command of Brazilian General Carlos Alberto dos Santo Cruz.

UN support for a successful operation is indispensable to the logistics and transport-challenged FARDC forces, as is MONUSCO’s ability to provide surveillance from drones and tactical support from South African Rooivalk attack helicopters. Without such support, even unilateral successes by FARDC will ultimately prove unsustainable in the medium to long-term. The Congolese government has suggested that MONUSCO can run its own operation against the FDLR if it wishes.


The Congolese Army consists of 14 brigades of fighters from various pro and anti-government factions that were integrated into the regular army after undoing a process known as brassage (“mixing”).

As in many African countries, the DRC’s regular forces are ill-paid and poorly supplied, with available resources devoted mainly to the Republican Guard (personally loyal to the president) to deter efforts at mounting a military coup d’état. Indiscipline and poor maintenance of arms and equipment are among FARDC’s weaknesses. Logistics is an especially weak component of the FARDC, so the more efficient logistical services of the UN mission will be well missed as the Congolese troops move further into the contested regions of North and South Kivu.

There are many FARDC officers for whom the elimination of the FDLR would mark the end of a profitable collaboration based on poaching, ivory, timber, cannabis (chanvre) and the illegal extraction of gold and other minerals from the Kivu region. Arms and intelligence have in turn flowed from FARDC to the Hutu rebels. According to a MONUSCO report to UN headquarters in New York, the FDLR makes over $70 million annually by doing business with FARDC commanders and implementing illegal taxation. According to the report, the wives of senior FARDC officers acted as trading agents, while their husbands handled the transport of goods in and out of the region (News of Rwanda [Kigali], August 28, 2014; Mail & Guardian [Johannesburg], November 18, 2014). It should be noted that the contacts that ultimately led to such collaboration were forged when the weak Congolese Army was compelled to seek allies in the border region in the face of repeated Rwandan incursions

Collaboration with the FDLR and other rebel movements in the Kivu region goes to the highest ranks of the Congolese Army. Major General Gabriel Amisi Kumba (a.k.a. Tango-Four) recently returned to duty after serving a two-year suspension that followed charges he was selling arms to militant groups in the eastern DRC (Radio Okapi [Kinshasha], August 6, 2014). General Amisi’s rehabilitation has taken place despite further charges that he oversaw the Kinsangani massacre of 2002 and later withdrew a superior FARDC force from the eastern city of Goma in November 2012, allowing the much smaller rebel M-23 movement to take the strategic city without a fight. [2]

Much of the military’s poor performance in northeast Congo to date has been due to the failure of officials in Kinshasha to see that the troops are paid on a regular basis. In 2009, the Rwandan military cooperated with FARDC in an offensive targeting the FDLR inside the Congo. Operation Umoja Wetu (“Our Unity”) was judged a partial success, but left 900,000 people displaced and 1,000 dead. According to Zeno Mutimara, the chairman of the Rwandan Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, MONUSCO has done nothing since it arrived in the DRC. Mutimara suggested regional military cooperation (as in 2009) would produce better results than reliance on international peacekeepers: “Umoja Wetu is better than the idea that Monusco will do anything. The biggest threat of the FDLR is the spread of genocide ideology; we have to deal with that, we should take responsibility for our own issues” (New Times [Kigali], March 28, 2015).

Operation Sokolo II

Regarding the contentious participation of Congolese Generals Bruno Mandevu and Sikabwe Fall in the current operation, a UN spokesman maintained “the clear point is that in accordance with our human rights due diligence policy, we cannot extend the support if we believe that support will contribute to a course of action in which human rights will be violated” (Inner City Press, March 20, 2015). Nonetheless, despite allegations of war crimes, the two generals were given exemptions to the policy during earlier operations against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). DRC officials maintain that they are not aware of human rights violations by the two generals and have not received documentation of such violations from the UN, even though the UN insists the exemptions could not be renewed due to the failure of Congolese authorities to investigate the allegations (, February 24, 2015; Reuters, March 26, 2015). The allegations include crimes such as rape and summary executions. After the UN withdrew its support for the operation, DRC government spokesmen maintained that it had only chosen its best officers to lead the operation against the FDLR (BBC, March 11, 2015). DRC Information Minister Lambert Mende recently characterized the UN’s decision to withhold support as an “attempt to transform our country into a colony” (VOA, March 30, 2015).

Kinshasha’s attitude on the matter suggests a provocative intent; the Kabila government is seeking a cut of 6,000 troops from the 20,000 man force, effective immediately, followed by a complete withdrawal in the near future, possibly before Kabila seeks a third (and so far unconstitutional) presidential term in elections scheduled for November 2016. The UN Security Council responded on March 26 by agreeing to cut 2,000 troops from the force while renewing MONUSCO’s mandate to March 2016. Despite the lackluster performance of FARDC, the DRC’s Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda insists that his nation is ready to take “full responsibility for its own security” (AFP, March 26, 2015).

While the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan government appears determined to eliminate the threat from unreformed genocidaires, the presence of the FDLR and similar Hutu formations across the border justifies the ongoing political domination of Rwanda by its Tutsi minority (15% of the population) and the government’s use of anti-genocide laws to suppress dissent. Maintaining the status quo also prevents or at least postpones any power-sharing initiatives designed to re-integrate the Hutu refugee community living in the DRC. The continued existence of internal enemies like the FDLR provides Kinshasha a useful excuse for its mismanagement of the economy and the evaporation of state revenues by a deeply corrupt regime, though it also invites occasional sovereignty-threatening incursions by foreign militaries, especially that of Rwanda. In the meantime, Rwanda’s justice system has been aggressively pursuing prosecutions against dozens of individuals accused of facilitating the importation of arms into Rwanda for use by the FDLR, with sentences ranging from 10 years to life (Reuters, March 13, 2015).

FDLR rebels were spotted moving through South Kivu’s Itombwe forest on March 16, 2015 (Radio Okapi [Kinshasha], March 17, 2015). Elsewhere, FARDC has reported seizing a FDLR base in Virunga National Park (Medafricatimes, March 10), an environmentally important region of 7800 square kilometers that has suffered greatly from becoming a refuge for all manner of regional militant groups. Large swathes of the park’s forest disappear every day as militants turn wood to charcoal for sale in nearby markets.

The light resistance encountered by FARDC, its own minimal casualties, the relatively low number of civilians displaced by the current operation and FARDC’s apparent inability to draw the enemy to battle or eliminate or capture any of its command structure suggests that Operation Sokola II may be little more than a politically inspired exercise designed to demonstrate the DRC’s ability to mount a counter-insurgency operation on its own and thus encourage greater and faster drawdowns of MONUSCO personnel. The lack of resistance may indicate that the FDLR understands the operation’s sham nature, and thus merely has to wait it out before re-assuming control of the region and resuming the commercial operations that support it (likely including those carried out in cooperation with FARDC). Unfortunately, the reoccupation of villages now in the hand of FARDC will prove to be a disaster for their residents, who will inevitably be accused of cooperation with government forces regardless of their innocence.


Without UN support, there is a certain inevitability regarding the ultimate failure of FARDC’s campaign against deeply-rooted Hutu militants, though there are a number of possible scenarios:

  • The FDLR may be counted upon to do their best to avoid battle at this time. Kinshasha’s expectations of an early and complete withdrawal of UN forces works in the FDLR’s favor and would significantly reduce the military threat to the movement, which has settled somewhat comfortably in the North and South Kivu regions. Remaining in Kivu is a positive alternative to possible repercussions if members of the movement are expelled to Rwanda.
  • Despite best intentions on the part of both FARDC and the FDLR, there is always a significant danger of escalation whenever two bodies of undisciplined and heavily armed troops are operating in close proximity. Should Sokola II turn into a real battle with units of the FDLR or any of the other militant groups operating in the same region, there is the very real possibility of FARDC being embarrassed in the field through loss of ground and/or heavy casualties. If FARDC commanders conclude such losses are the result of insufficient support from the Kabila government, they might turn against Kabila, or at the very least oppose his future presidential aspirations.
  • While the UN has said it will remain in the DRC until successful operations have lowered the threat level to civilian populations, there may be those in the UN and its financial backers that will welcome the apparent snub from Kinshasha as proof there is little point in continuing to maintain the expensive peacekeeping mission in the Congo, currently the world’s largest.


  1. “How to Dismantle a Deadly Militia: Seven non-military tactics to help end the FDLR threat in the Congo,” The Enough Project, November 2014,
  2. Jean-Jacques Wondo Omanyundu: “Who’s who: Le Général Amisi ‘Tango Four,’ le boucher de l’Est du Congo,” Desc-Wondo, October 3, 2014,


UNAMID to Shut Down Peacekeeping Operations in Darfur as Khartoum Expands Oil Exploration: What Now?

Andrew McGregor

From Tips and Trends: The AIS African Security Report

Aberfoyle International Security, April 2015

unamid 1With plans to boost production in its hard-pressed oil sector, Sudan is looking to establish full control over northern Darfur, where new exploration and drilling projects are planned to help replace the oil production lost in the 2010 separation of oil-rich South Sudan, which represented nearly 75% of Sudan’s pre-separation output. There are hopes for new development in northern Darfur’s Block 12A concession, worked by Saudi Arabia’s al-Qahtani company, and Block 14, where South Africa’s PetroSA has engaged in exploration work in the desolate regions near Sudan’s northern borders with Libya and Egypt (Middle East Eye, March 20, 2015). The Sudanese Ministry of Oil also expects to bring new wells in eastern Darfur’s Abu Karinka region into production later this year (Radio Dabanga, February 17, 2015). As continued rebel activity in Darfur threatens new government revenue streams, Khartoum is eager to consolidate full control over the unsettled region and eliminate international meddling in what the regime considers an internal matter. To this end, Khartoum is seeking the withdrawal of the United Nations–African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), a large, expensive and relatively ineffectual peacekeeping mission that the regime nonetheless regards as an irritant in its efforts to reshape Darfur’s ethnic composition.

A working group of Sudanese, United Nations and African Union representatives met on March 17 to begin drawing up a strategy for UNAMID’s eventual withdrawal from Darfur. [1]The group, acting under pressure from Khartoum for a speedy withdrawal, will present a report to the UN Security Council by the end of May.

UNAMID, self-described as a “joint hybrid” operation involving UN and African Union forces, conducts its affairs under a UN Charter Chapter VII mandate which allows for armed measures to protect civilians as well as “such action by air, sea or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security.” [2]

Impetus for the withdrawal was provided by a late 2014 dispute between Khartoum and UNAMID over the latter’s demands for a transparent investigation into reports of mass-rape by Sudanese security forces in the town of Tabit. The UN claimed its own initial investigation was hampered by a massive military and police presence in the town focused on intimidating witnesses. In yet another display of the acrobatic approach to logic his regime has become famous for, President Omar Bashir claimed that the mass rapes proved “UNAMID has failed to protect civilians and [has] instead become protector to the rebels” (Sudan Tribune, December 1, 2014).  By February, Khartoum was demanding the complete withdrawal of UNAMID (Sudan Tribune, February 19, 2015).

After the Congo-based MONUSCO (see Congo article in this issue), UNAMID is the world’s second largest peacekeeping force with an annual budget in excess of $1.3 billion. The UN is not against at least making the forcer leaner and more effective – a recent internal review of UNAMID activities concluded that many of the units serving in the peacekeeping force were incompetent and should be sent home (Reuters, March 11, 2015).

The Rebellion Twelve Years On

Though the pace is slower, the rebellion in Darfur against the central government continues. The Sudan Liberation Movement faction led by Abd al-Wahid al-Nur (SLM-AW) claimed to have taken the SAF garrison at Rokoro in central Darfur on March 13, seizing large quantities of arms and war materiel after killing 58 militiamen and SAF personnel (Radio Dabanga, March 13, 2015). While raids of this type continue, the leadership of an ever-proliferating number of new rebel movements continue to flirt with the regime, accepting integration into government security forces at one moment, and deserting to resume rebellion in the next. Many of these acronym movements seek nothing more than favorable concessions and/or salaries from the central government in exchange for laying down arms. A long string of government settlements with these minor movements has done little to restore security in Darfur so long as the major non-signatory movements (such as the Zaghawa-led Justice and Equality Movement [JEM], the Sudan Liberation Army- Minni Minawi [SLA-MM – largely Zaghawa] and the SLA-AW [largely Fur]) cannot be enticed to reach an agreement with the regime in Khartoum, which is deeply distrusted by the major movements.

Three reports presented to the UN Security Council on March 18 by Hervé Ladsous, the UN under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, suggested that the security situation in Darfur is actually deteriorating due to “the ongoing Government of Sudan and the Rapid Support Forces’ military offensive.” [3]  Noting that government forces had weakened the rebel formations in Darfur, Ladsous also noted that this success had come at the cost of a rate of displacement that was now higher than at any previous time since the rebellion began in 2003 (Radio Dabanga, March 18, 2015). Meanwhile, security issues remain unaddressed, with government troops and militiamen continuing to commit gang-rapes of “non-Arab” women and girls across Darfur. While senior officers routinely maintain they are searching for the culprits, these searches apparently do not extend to government barracks.

An Epidemic of Tribal Warfare

Beyond the ongoing conflict between various rebel movements and government troops and/or allied militias (now in its 12th year), Darfur now finds itself caught up in a plague of tribal conflicts, often encouraged by local and central government authorities.

Arab Rizeigat and Fellata clashed in southern Darfur last year after Rizeigat tribesmen prevented Fellata (the Kanuri term by which members of the Fulani/Peul ethnic group are known in Darfur) livestock traders from crossing their lands (Radio Dabanga, October 1, 2014).

In recent weeks, dozens have been killed or wounded in clashes between the Fellata and the Salamat, a nomadic group claiming Arab heritage, many of whom were encouraged by Khartoum to migrate into Darfur from their homes in Chad and northeast Niger to occupy lands from which Black Africans had been expelled by the paramilitary Janjawid and elements of the Sudanese Army. As is often the case, the spark behind the conflict was relatively trivial (the theft of some cows, not an unknown occurrence in Darfur), but the proliferation of modern firearms in the highly racialized atmosphere promoted by the regime of President Omar al-Bashir now tends to turn every minor conflict into a series of massacres and counter-massacres. Matters are complicated by a government-encouraged turn away from elders’ councils and other traditional and moderating forms of influence in the so-called “Arab” tribes of Darfur in favor of younger leaders eager to nourish more direct ties to Khartoum in return for arms, cash and the influence these commodities wield in their communities.

On March 26, the Darfur Bar Association summed up the dangers of this policy in a statement calling on authorities to cease the distribution of arms and its politicization of the tribal system:

By arming certain tribesmen, distributing military uniforms and four-wheel drive vehicles among them, and letting them assault, rob, and terrorize innocent civilians with impunity, the regime affirms that it has withdrawn its responsibility, and pushes the people to take up arms themselves in response (Radio Dabanga, March 26, 2015).

A recent conflict in East Darfur between the Ma’alia and the Rizeigat (both “Arab” groups – it is often difficult to visually distinguish between Darfur “Arabs” and “Black Africans”) that killed over 500 people and displaced another 55,0000 brought criticism of the inability of the tribes’ traditional leadership to end the conflict from President Bashir (Sudan Tribune, March 19, 2014), who conveniently overlooked his own government’s role in undermining the influence of the region’s traditional leaders. There are also serious clashes at the northern Darfur goldmines of Jabal Amir between the Rizeigat and the Arab Bani Hussein. Nearly 800 people were killed at the mines in early 2013 alone.

Escalating attacks by the “Arab” Ziyadiya against the indigenous Black African Berti in March began to look more like an attempt to eliminate the Berti rather than merely punish them for an alleged breach of a truce between the two groups earlier this year. Local and largely Ziyadiya units of the paramilitary Border Guards and the Central Reserve Force (popularly known as “Abu Tira”) have joined Ziyadiya tribesmen in large-scale attacks on Berti in the Melllit region, north of the Darfur capital of al-Fashir. A string of assaults by gunmen and paramilitary forces equipped with Russian-made 108mm DShK “Dushka machine guns and mortars culminated with the massacre of over 40 civilians in villages near Mellit on March 28 (Radio Dabanga, March 22, 2015; March 29, 2015). The raids, which killed over 80 Berti in March alone, have been accompanied by widespread looting, rustling and destruction of property.

unamid 2Osman Muhammad Yusuf Kibir

North Darfur governor Osman Muhammad Yusuf Kibir, a Berti member of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), has been accused by his rivals of using his office to strengthen the position of his own tribe and forming a Berti militia (Sudan Tribune, September 17, 2013).

Former Janjawid leader and arch-rival to Kibir, Shaykh Musa Hilal (an Umjallul/ Mahamid Arab and a member of parliament for the ruling National Congress Party [NCP – al-Mu’tamar al-Watani]), incited an Arab militia in-training with a 2013 speech describing the Berti as led by “a bastard slave” (i.e. Governor Kibir) and knowing “only how to cook watermelons” (Sudan Tribune, September 15, 2013). Hilal now poses as an opponent of the “corrupt regime” in Khartoum as the leader of al-Sahwa [Awakening] Revolutionary Council, which declared in late February that it would boycott this month’s elections (Radio Dabanga, January 13, 2015; February 25, 2015). It appears, however, that Musa Hilal’s main differences are with Governor Kibir rather than al-Bashir, who has traditionally acted as Hilal’s sponsor and guardian.

Nonetheless, a March 17 statement from al-Sahwa condemned Khartoum’s tribal policy in Darfur: “The regime still indulges in reckless policies towards this crisis in the country as it still incites and scatters the seeds of discord among the Arab and non-Arab tribes in Darfur” (Sudan Vision, March 19, 2015). Al-Sahwa controls territory and communities in the western part of Northern Darfur, where it has set up its own administrations.

The regime has tried to downplay the eruption of tribal violence in Darfur as a “normal” condition. In mid-March, Hassan Hamid Hassan, the Sudanese deputy ambassador to the UN, told the UN Security Council that “tribal violence in Darfur is as old as Darfur itself. We cannot condition the withdrawal, the exit of the [UNAMID] mission, on these phenomena which are as ancient as Darfur itself” (Reuters, March 17, 2015).


Some 770 UNAMID staff were scheduled to be cut from the mission’s strength by the end of March 2015, as part of a restructuring prior to eventual withdrawal (Radio Dabanga, March 1, 2015). General elections in Sudan on April 13 are fully expected to return the ruling NCP to power, providing it a self-confirmed mandate to restore order and expand economic development, even if it comes at the expense of the 2.5 million Darfuris who remain displaced. While UNAMID does not have much in the way of accomplishments to justify the loss of over 200 peacekeepers since it began operations, it has nevertheless provided the international community with eyes and ears in turbulent Darfur. The racialization of communities once known for cooperative and generally harmonious relations by the Arab-supremacists within the NCP government cannot be quickly undone, and with the proliferation of all types of small-arms in the region, growing ethnic and tribal conflicts now threaten to supplant the multi-headed rebellion as Darfur’s greatest security threat. UNAMID may be characterized as a costly failure, but its absence will still be deeply felt by Darfur’s civilian population, much of which can expect further displacement through government “pacification” campaigns led by ill-disciplined paramilitaries.

Somalia’s al-Shabaab Movement: Tactical Overhaul in a Collapsing Insurgency

Andrew McGregor 

A Speech Delivered at the Jamestown Foundation Seventh Annual Terrorism Conference

Washington D.C.
December 12, 2013

Somalia’s al-Shabaab movement was incorporated as a new regional chapter of al-Qaeda with the blessings of Ayman al-Zawahiri in February, 2012. Faced with increasing military opposition and severe blows to its revenue streams, al-Shabaab faced the options of gradual annihilation in the field or scaling back operations to a more asymmetric model based on a diminished interest in holding territory and a greater use of terrorist tactics in an expanded zone of operations, one that includes Somalia’s neighbors and might possibly reach to the foreign supporters of Somalia’s national government and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi and a series of terrorist strikes in Somalia suggest that al-Shabaab is undergoing a tactical and organizational shift designed to centralize command of the movement as it de-emphasizes guerrilla warfare in favor of suicide bombings, assassinations and other terrorist operations.

Assessing al-Shabaab’s Military Strength

Following the devastating loss of both Mogadishu and Kismayo, al-Shabaab finds itself operating in an ever more restricted space, with the only urban centers of any importance still under their control being the port of Barawe in Lower Shabelle and the town of Badhere in Gedo region. According to the Somali Minister of Defense, Abdihakim Haji Mohamud Fiki, al-Shabaab’s military strength has been heavily weakened, leading the movement to carry out a series of desperation attacks.

Al-Shabaab has faced an internal challenge as well, after movement leader Abdi Godane began a purge of internal opponents and suspected spies, centralizing command under himself in the process.Godane relies these days on a combination Praetorian Guard and secret service known as Amniyat to provide personal protection and enforce his will within the movement. Amniyat is already organized in a cell structure that would readily lend itself to a shift to purely terrorist tactics should Shabaab be driven from the field. Amniyat created a split in al-Shabaab during the fighting in Mogadishu when it began killing wounded Shabaab fighters from the southern Bay-Bakool region to save the movement the trouble of looking after them.

Amniyat’s assassination of movement notables like Ibrahim Haji Jama, Omar Hammami, Osama al-Britani (a.k.a. Habib Ghani) and Abdihamid Hashi Olhaye (Moallim Burhan) has created divisions within the movement at a critical time; in early November (Nov 10) at least ten Shabaab militants were killed in what was described as heavy fighting that occurred when one al-Shabaab faction attacked Godane loyalists in the Lower Shabelle region.

Shaykh Hassan Dahir Aweys

Elements of the Hizb al-Islam faction that merged with Shabaab in 2010 are now rethinking their commitment to jihad after the surrender of their leader Shaykh Hassan Dahir Aweys to government forces, Aweys preferring surrender rather than face assassination by Godane’s gunmen. There now appears to be a split in the remains of the original group, with one faction of Hizb al-Islam renouncing violence in favor of talks while another faction rejects any such notions.

In the face of pressure from powerful Hawiye clan elders, President Hassan Shaykh Mohamud has indicated that Aweys, a member of the Hawiye, could be released if he renounced violence and distanced himself from al-Shabaab, a step the shaykh appears unready to take yet.  Otherwise the former Hizb al-Islam leader may face a military court.

Another leading Shabaab commander, Mukhtar Robow (a.k.a. Abu Mansur), has fled Godane’s assassins to take refuge with his Rahanweyn clan. His loss is important, as his troops from the Bay-Bakool region were personally loyal to him and formed a significant part of Shabaab’s total manpower. The remaining Shabaab leaders still in the field all face the danger of being hunted by American drones running out of Ethiopia and Djibouti.

Al-Shabaab Finances

Though there are reports that al-Shabaab profits from the production end of the charcoal industry, the Kenyan military estimates that their incursion into southern Somalia has disrupted 75% of al-Shabaab’s revenue stream, mainly by ending Shabaab control of the important southern port of Kismayo. However, control of the charcoal trade from Shabaab-held Barawe is still worth millions of dollars each month.

Eliminating or even restricting Shabaab’s sources of financing will do much to diminish their military strength – as we have seen throughout this conflict, there is a certain mobility on the part of fighters when either side has demonstrated an inability to meet its payroll.

Tactical Change

While al-Shabaab may seek to impress Gulf region donors with terrorist attacks like that on the Westgate Mall, it risks at the same time the loss of diaspora donors who are morally opposed to such attacks or who are unwilling to risk prosecution for funding a group that can no longer be described by its diaspora backers as “a national resistance movement opposing foreign occupation.” Between the movement’s open declaration of allegiance to al-Qaeda and its headline-grabbing terrorist attacks, such evasions are no longer tenable.

Nonetheless, al-Shabaab is stepping up its use of suicide bombers:

  • A June attack on a UN compound in Mogadishu by a suicide bomber in a truck followed by a general assault  that killed 22 people
  • A suicide car bomb attack outside Mogadishu’s Maka al-Mukarama Hotel on November 8 killed six people. A Shabaab spokesman said the target of the attack was “apostate security forces and officials.”
  • An attack on the Beledweyne police station followed by a general assault on November 19 killed 28 people.

A UN Security Council report issued last July suggested that al-Shabaab has “preserved the core of its fighting forces and resources” by avoiding direct military confrontations. Nevertheless, if al-Shabaab are entering lean times, it will be difficult to hold the group together as many of its fighters consider the economic opportunities the movement offers to be as appealing as its ideology.

Assessing AMISOM’s Military Strength

In October, UN deputy secretary general Jan Eliasson assessed the progress of the African Union’s mission in Somalia, or AMISOM, saying that the offensive that began in August 2011 with the withdrawal of al-Shabaab from Mogadishu had “ground to a halt” because of a shortage of troops to exploit successes in the field.

In mid-November the Security Council addressed the issue, authorizing the deployment of an additional 4400 African Union troops, bringing the size of the force up to 22,100 troops. The Council also approved the use of 12 military helicopters from troop-contributing countries. After a period of 18 to 24 months, the Security Council hopes to hand over security operations to the Somali National Army and a UN peacekeeping force. However, it must be remembered that mere authorization does not translate to troops on the ground – it took three years for AMISOM to raise its forces to the previous authorized level of 18,000.  It can only be hoped that the response will be quicker at this crucial time rather than allow al-Shabaab the opportunity to regroup and reorganize.

AMISOM’s reputation has improved greatly since the Shabaab withdrawal from Mogadishu allowed the mission to begin humanitarian operations. During Shabaab’s occupation of the city, AMISOM frequently came under local criticism for its careless use of retaliatory fire when responding to Shabaab attacks. The 960 man Somali-speaking police and military contingent from Djibouti has had notable success in its deployment in the Hiraan region, but there is a limit to what that small nation can provide.

The addition of helicopter-gunships and surveillance aircraft would greatly enhance the effectiveness of AMISOM operations in territory now held by al-Shabaab. The use of Kenyan Air Force fighter jets in southern Somalia has been an important factor in driving al-Shabaab from their former bases there.

The other component of AMISOM’s mission is providing training and assistance in the creation of professional Somali security forces that can take on a greater share of responsibility for internal security.

Ethiopia is considering joining AMISOM, which would greatly enhance the operational ability of the force in squeezing Shabaab forces from the Somali interior.

Applying Pressure to the AMISOM Contributors

When al-Shabaab first proved its international capabilities in 2010 with coordinated suicide bombings that killed 74 people who had gathered to watch the World Cup in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, the movement warned:  “We are sending a message to every country that is willing to send troops to Somalia that they will face attacks on their territory.”

Having already lost vital revenues provided by the movement’s control of the markets of Mogadishu and the port of Kismayo, Kenya’s support for a new, autonomous administration in southern Somalia threatens to deprive Shabaab of operational mobility in one of its last strongholds. Unable to confront Kenyan troops in the field, al-Shabaab’s strategic response was the formulation of a devastating strike at a soft target in the heart of Kenya – Nairobi’s upscale Westgate Mall.

The Westgate Mall attack did not come out of the blue – over a dozen grenade and IED attacks have occurred since the Kenyan intervention in Somalia began. Most of these incidents have caused few casualties, leading to a senior Shabaab official telling his Kenyan associates to “stop throwing grenades at buses.” Westgate appears to be the result of top Shabaab planners taking over operations in Kenya to produce the kind of mass-casualty attacks they desire.

As al-Shabaab hoped, some Kenyan opposition politicians have called for a withdrawal from Somalia following the Westgate attack, but Nairobi is unlikely to pull out unless it is satisfied the Somali government can provide adequate security in the border regions. This proposition still seems far off at present, suggesting that Kenya will maintain both political influence and a military presence in southern Somalia for some time. A new security concern is created by Kenyan plans to build a new rail and pipeline corridor carrying oil from South Sudanese and Ugandan sources to the port of Lamu, less than 95 miles from the Somali border.

Al-Shabaab did not obscure the motive for the Westgate attack by offering to negotiate at any point during the standoff. The attack was solely retaliation for Kenyan interference in Somalia with the purpose of influencing public opinion against government policy. The attackers had no expectation of survival – in fact al-Shabaab reacted with great anger to suggestions that any of them might actually have escaped. The loss of Kismayo was a severe blow to al-Shabaab’s financing and ability to re-supply, so Godane decided it was time for radical measures in the face of his movement’s obvious inability to expel the Kenyans by military means.

Kenyan Defense Forces operating in Somalia were absorbed into the AMISOM command in February, though their efforts to create “Jubaland,” a semi-autonomous unofficial buffer state separating Kenya from the rest of Somalia have placed them at odds with the national government in Mogadishu, which is seeking unification of Somalia rather than its further division. Kenyan political and military support for the new administration of Jubaland has unfortunately given the latter the confidence to dismiss delegations from the national government in Mogadishu seeking to improve security cooperation.

A long-term Kenyan presence in southern Somalia may eventually work against restoring security in the area as any situation that is viewed as a foreign, and especially Christian, occupation of Somalia will become a rallying point and recruitment tool for extremists.

Al-Shabaab will also seek to rebuild its jihadi networks inside Nairobi and Mombassa, which have been greatly disrupted by Kenyan security operations in recent months.

Beyond the AMISOM nations, Ethiopia has also been targeted for attack by al-Shabaab for its military operations in the Somali border regions. Tragedy was narrowly averted when two Somali suicide-bombers were killed when their bomb exploded prematurely on their way to a World Cup qualifying match in Addis Ababa. Last month Ethiopia’s foreign ministry said the nation should expect more such attacks.


There are also indications that al-Shabaab is once again seeking to expand its terrorist campaign into Puntland, the semi-autonomous north-eastern province of Somalia. A December 5 bombing of a Puntland Marine Forces convoy left eight dead and 37 injured

Only days before, an estimated 40 Shabaab members mounted an unsuccessful assault on the Bossaso Central Prison in Puntland’s capital. The attack coincided with the suicide bombing of the Maka al-Mukarama Hotel in Mogadishu.


A culture of corruption continues to impede efforts to restore security to Somalia; in the annual rankings of corrupt nations released this month by Transparency International, Somalia ranks amongst the three worst, in company with North Korea and Afghanistan. Bribery and other forms of corruption allow Islamist militants to pass freely through security checkpoints designed to prevent attacks. Funds made available by donor nations often fail to reach the frontlines of the fight against terrorism – when police are paid erratically at best, they tend to feel it is their right to engage in corrupt practices. Bomb detection equipment is generally unavailable and the use of sniffer dogs runs counter to local cultural practice.

Terrorist attacks are part of al-Shabaab’s decision to revert to a guerrilla/terrorist campaign in its currently weakened state, which largely precludes more conventional military operations of any size.

Abdi Godane, has now made himself and the rest of the Shabaab leadership the targets of an international man-hunt that may well result in the ultimate death of the Amir and other movement leaders. Military pressure on the movement could foster further internal disputes over Godane’s controversial choice to take the movement in the direction of a globally-focused jihad closer to al-Qaeda Central’s concerns than those of more locally-focused Somali jihadists.

With Kismayo taken, AMISOM’s next major target will be the port of Barawe, the site of October’s unsuccessful SEAL raid, intended to capture Ikrima, the suspected planner of the Westgate Mall attack. Barawe is believed to be a center for the training of suicide bombers and provides Shabaab with revenue from the charcoal trade. A joint offensive by Kenyan and Ugandan led forces would cut off Shabaab from maritime supply routes and link-up the northern and southern AMISOM groups.

AMISOM is confident that force multipliers like helicopters and armored vehicles will allow it to finally destroy al-Shabaab as a military force in the field. However, even if military reinforcements allow AMISOM to resume its offensive against al-Shabaab, the movement could split into terrorist cells operating under Godane’s control in urban areas otherwise under Somali government control. Al-Shabaab forces still roam freely in many areas taken by AMISOM, speaking to the need to effectively garrison these territories. At the moment, AMISOM risks extending its supply lines in rural areas prone to ambushes. Paradoxically, the more weakened al-Shabaab becomes as an insurgent force, the more dangerous it will become as a terrorist group as it struggles to survive under Godane’s ruthless command. The ever-paranoid Shabaab chief will continue to search for spies in his command to avoid being targeted by American drones, though this hyper-vigilance may risk creating further internal splits in the organization. His personal control of the movement raises the problem of whether an effective replacement could be found in the event of his death and the possibility that other al-Shabaab factions might enter negotiations with the government. The question is whether a lengthy terrorist campaign could have the unlikely result of reversing Shabaab’s fortunes, or whether it would be ultimately self-defeating in a nation that is both exhausted by decades of warfare and largely uninterested in al-Shabaab’s religious leadership.

Nigerian Army Abandons Peacekeeping Missions in Mali and Darfur to Combat Boko Haram

Andrew McGregor

July 25, 2013

Nigeria has begun to pull back troops from peacekeeping missions in Mali and Darfur as its two-month-old offensive against Boko Haram militants begins to falter even as northern Nigerian extremists turn to soft targets to disrupt the efforts of security forces. Launched on May 14, the offensive has proved controversial from the start, with critics describing it as ineffective and shockingly casual in its regard for civilian lives.

JDF Patrol in Maiduguri

Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan’s order to withdraw Nigerian troops from Mali was attributed in some quarters to the replacement of a Nigerian by a Rwandan as the force commander of the peacekeeping force in Mali now that it has passed under UN control. [1] A Nigerian military source told a French news agency that the withdrawal was in response to the UN’s change of command for the Malian peacekeeping force: “A non-Nigerian was appointed as force commander while we are putting so much into the mission. So we think we can make better use of those people [i.e. Nigerian troops] at home than to keep them where they are not appreciated” (AFP, July 18). The leader of the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) since the formation of the force in January was Major-General Shehu Abdulkadir, who was joined by seven staff officers of the Nigerian Army in the AFISMA command (Leadership [Abuja], February 18; June 7). Last month, however, the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, announced the appointment of Major General Jean Bosco Kazura of Rwanda as the new force commander of the UN’s Mission Multidimensionnelle Intégrée des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation au Mali (MINUSMA), sidelining Nigeria’s Major-General Shehu Abdulkadir, who was the force commander of AFISMA from its inception in January 2013 (PANA [Dakar], July 19). Nigerian officers were also excluded from the MINUSMA posts of deputy force commander, head of mission and deputy head of mission.

However, Côte d’Ivoire president and ECOWAS chairman Alassane Ouattara said he had received a letter from President Jonathan saying the withdrawal was in response to the need for infantry to cope with the domestic situation in Nigeria (Daily Trust [Lagos], July 19; Nigerian Tribune, July 19). A Nigerian Senate committee report on the April violence in Baga (Borno State, close to Lake Chad) stated that Nigeria’s military had become dangerously overstretched between its campaign against Boko Haram and its international commitments. The committee urged the president to direct the armed forces to begin the urgent recruitment of large numbers of new officers and soldiers (Daily Trust [Lagos], June 26). According to the Nigerian chief-of-army-staff, Lieutenant Azubike Ihejirika, the Nigerian Army has recruited over 16,000 officers and men in the last two years, a figure that does not seem to agree with the Senate committee’s assessment of the Army’s recruiting efforts (Vanguard [Lagos], July 17). The exact number of men being pulled out of the roughly 1,200 man Nigerian peacekeeping deployment in Mali was not stated, but it is understood that nearly all the combat infantry will be pulled out, leaving behind only some engineers, signalers and other military specialists.

The Nigerian Joint Task Force (JTF – a combined arms counter-insurgency unit) has warned that some Boko Haram elements would flee the operations in northeast Nigeria and seek refuge in quieter parts of the country, such as Jigawa State, where three Boko Haram members were killed in a pre-dawn raid on July 17 (Vanguard [Lagos], July 17). Many Boko Haram fighters also appear to have evaded the destruction of their bases in northern Borno by backtracking into Maiduguri, leading the JTF to begin operations in that city.

On July 3, the JTF began a major operation designed to clear out Boko Haram strongholds in the Bulabulin, Nganaram, Aljajeri and Falluja wards of Maiduguri. Over the last year, many residents of the wards had been forced from their homes by Boko Haram members, who then consolidated the residences into well-connected compounds (Daily Trust [Lagos], July 8). An estimated 100 people were killed in the operation, which by July 8 had successfully cleared the militants from their compounds, liberated scores of abducted women and children and eliminated the Boko Haram Amir of Bulabulin and Nganaram, who was wanted for the murder of a teacher and three children in Maiduguri. The compounds contained a complex system of tunnels and bunkers that concealed large caches of arms and ammunition. Most disturbing were the mass graves and decomposing bodies stuffed down sewer pipes. (Daily Trust [Lagos], July 15; This Day [Lagos], July 16).

Though it once focused on security targets and Nigerian Christians, Boko Haram appears to be increasingly influenced by takfiri tendencies that have led it to target Muslims whose approach to Islam does not meet the approval of the movement’s leadership. These tendencies were recently recognized by the Shehu of Borno, Abubakr ibn Umar Garbai al-Kanemi, the traditional ruler of Nigeria’s Muslim Kanuri community (Boko Haram is estimated to be 80% Kanuri): “Boko Haram is not a deliberate attempt by Muslims to attack Christians; if it is, they would not have attacked me. If it is a question of targeting only Christians, 13 of my district heads, two council members and many other Muslims would not have been killed. The Amirs of Fika and Kano are Muslims, yet they were attacked by the sect, who also killed many other Muslims leaders” (This Day [Lagos], July 19; see also Terrorism Monitor Brief, February 8). The Shehu urged Nigerians to view Boko Haram as a common enemy and not as an attempt by Muslims to Islamize Nigeria.

Boko Haram appears to have responded to the government offensive by switching to soft targets such as schools. Using firearms and bombs, unidentified attackers recently struck a boarding school in Yobe State, killing 42 students and staff (AFP, July 13). The massacre in Yobe is the latest in a series of attacks on primary, secondary and university students and staff believed to have been carried out by Boko Haram since the government offensive began.

Boko Haram leader Abubakr Shekau explained his movement’s position in a video released shortly after the Yobe attack: “We fully support the attack on this Western education school in Mamudo… Teachers who teach western education? We will kill them! We will kill them in front of their students, and tell the students to henceforth study the Qur’an.” Shekau, however, did not go so far as to claim responsibility for the attacks, saying: “Our religion does not permit us to touch small children and women, we don’t kill children” (AFP, July 13; Guardian [Lagos], July 15). Despite Shekau’s insistence on Quranic education, even certain Quranic schools have been targeted for closure by the takfiri Boko Haram militants for minor religious differences, such as the use of prayer beads by religious teachers (Guardian [Lagos], July 15).