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How Metele attack re-ignited war on Boko Haram

From right: President of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou; President Muhammadu Buhari; President Idriss Déby Itno of Chad; and Prime Minister of Cameroon, Philemon Yang, listen to a communique being read at the end of the extraordinary summit of the Heads of State and Government of the Lake Chad Basin on Security in N’Djamena Chad on Thursday Photo: State House

Nigerians, and the rest of the world, were outraged following the siege by Boko Haram on a military formation in Metele, in the Northern part of Borno State. But has the tragic aftermath in a way triggered a change in the narrative, perhaps signalling a positive turn in the tide of the battle?

 

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On Nov. 18, Boko Haram terrorists attacked the 157 Task Force Battalion in Borno State where they killed many soldiers. The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Yusuf Buratai, who spoke through Brig. Gen. Sani Kukasheka Usman, said 23 personnel were killed in action and 31 others wounded. “During the attack, the troops were forced to withdraw and several casualties were recorded,” he said.

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But other accounts put the casualty figure at more than 100, including the unit’s commander, Lt. Col. Ibrahim Sakaba, as well as his second-in-command, and three other officers, and many soldiers.

“The attack in Metele, and many others before it, are enough for the Nigerian military authorities to change the terminologies they use in describing Boko Haram,” said a retired army Major, Salihu Bakari. He added that Nigeria must consolidate the gains recorded between 2015 and late 2017, by not allowing a resurgence to persist.

Bakari said: “We are in a war situation, and Nigeria must confront the terrorists full-on. It is no longer an internal insurrection; we have been in this mess for nearly ten years, almost three times the period we took fighting the Civil War.” He noted that Buratai’s statement which acknowledged the terrorists deployment of drones in their operations calls for a completely new approach to the fight against Boko Haram.

Responding to the Metele attack, President Muhammadu Buhari said no responsible Commander-in-Chief would fold his hands and allow terrorists to endanger the lives of its citizens. “Our loyal forces have proved their strength over the terrorists and we are ready to give them all the needed support in terms of equipment and manpower to succeed in ending the renewed threat. In the coming days, I am engaging the military and intelligence chiefs in extensive discussions on the next steps we shall be taking,” he said.

Rights bodies, NGOs, and even international monitors have condemned the Metele attacks, and are pushing for a renewed effort in defeating Boko Haram.

Boko Haram’s new M.O

Many experts, officers, and soldiers told Daily Trust Saturday that there is no doubt Nigeria had achieved a lot between 2015, and late 2017 in the fight against Boko Haram. But some of them also believe that military authorities were slow in realising the terrorists have actually changed their modus operandi, which has seen their fighters become fiercer, and more bloodthirsty.

While Nigerian troops, with initial support from Chad, Cameroon and Niger through the Multi National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) and other underground arrangements succeeded in chasing the terrorists from towns and cities, the insurgents switched to new tactics.

The Abu Mus’ab Albarnawi faction now concentrates operations along Lake Chad in Northern Borno by establishing many cells on islands from where they organize, strategize and launch attacks. On the other hand, the Abubakar Shekau faction is now concentrating on parts of central and northern Borno.

There were expectations that Boko Haram, as a group, would implode after Mus’ab Albarnawi, the son of late Mohammed Yusuf, broke away from Shekau with active support of late Mamman Nur, who has strong connections with ISIS. But instead, it seems after few months of rivalry, the two factions have gone separate ways, and adopted potent methods of survival, membership recruitment, and attack.

According to a military source, for Nigeria to succeed in the war with Boko Haram, it must be far ahead in terms of changing tactics. “There is no doubt the insurgents are using asymmetrical tactics, which is extremely difficult to contain. Secondly, the two factions now understand that it is needless to think of conquering large territories that you cannot permanently control; the administrative stress of controlling such places is not worth it; so they concentrate their strength in fewer places,” he said. He said Nigeria must deploy all resources to achieve this, including renewing ties with Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

“I like the courage shown by President Muhammadu Buhari; the Ndjamena meeting of African leaders which held on Thursday was timely. It is good that Buhari went back for the roundtable because the setback we noticed recently was because the three other countries had backed out and left us with our problem. Let’s face it, Boko Haram is mostly our problem,” the source said.

Leaders of Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon had during their meeting Thursday called  for increased international backing in the face of the recent escalation of attacks by Boko Haram.

A serving soldier in the North East who does not want his name mentioned, said  President Buhari should also adopt the strategy used by ex-president Goodluck Jonathan shortly after the extension of the 2015 general election by six weeks. “There is nothing wrong in bringing back the mercenaries who came with their men and fighting equipment. They substantially neutralized the Boko Haram within six weeks,” he said.

“I know we, the Army and Air Force, can win the fight because we have the manpower, but the truth is that we don’t have the equipment,” he said.

Not one-way offensive

Daily Trust Saturday findings revealed that despite the purported increased onslaught by the two factions of the Boko Haram, it is not actually a wholesome success story for them as Nigerian troops have recorded numerous successes. A tally of attacks reveal that both factions of Boko Haram have also recorded a lot of casualties. In the last five months, the two Boko Haram factions launched nearly 20 offensives on different military facilities, and while they succeeded in some places, they suffered humiliating defeats in others. The Nigerian Army and Air Force succeeded in trailing and neutralizing the terrorists that attacked Mainok, in central part of Borno State, on the same day.

The Metele attack actually happened on a day the Nigerian military engaged insurgents in fierce fights in various fronts. On the same Nov. 18 the terrorists were repelled by troops who attempted to invade a military facility in Gajiram in Borno State.

On Aug 28, they attempted to attack a military facility at Arege, but were reportedly repelled and many of them killed. And on Sept. 12, the terrorists went back to Damasak but were repelled, many of them killed after they killed two soldiers and six civilians. Similarly, the terrorists attacked a military facility in Kekeno on Sept.  23 but were repelled and on Sept. 26, they were at another facility in Gashigar and again were repelled with heavy casualty on their side. While they killed 3 soldiers on Nov 27 at Cross-Kauwa, it was a bad day for them same day when they went to Arege military facility but were dealt with.

Daily Trust Saturday reports that the recent courage to attack military facilities dates back to  July 14, when the Al-Barnawy faction attacked Jilli in Yobe State, where many troops were believed to have been killed. They took away many vehicles, fighting equipment and brand new military uniforms which they are currently using, taking troops by surprise.

In January this year, the Minister of Interior, General Abdulrahman Dambazau gave statistics on arms proliferation in Nigeria, saying over 70 per cent of the 500 million of such weapons in West Africa, translating to 350 million, are found in Nigeria. He added that Nigeria’s porous borders contributed. “And we know for a fact, that quite a large consignment of weapons are being smuggled, or have been smuggled from North Africa, in particular, Libya, as a consequence of the crisis in that country,” he said.

Experts believe the fight will only succeed when Nigeria adopts a water-tight border arrangement to contain infiltration of arms, an a reinvigorated push towards neutralising Boko Haram.

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