Why is Boko Haram still able to successfully carry out attacks?
Nigeria is not alone in experiencing the wrath of the Boko Haram resurgence. Neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger all experienced bombings this month. According to Amnesty International, the Boko Haram conflict has claimed no fewer than 1,600 people since June. An AFP tally reveals that this month alone more than100 people have been killed, nearly 1,370 since President Muhammadu Buhari came to power on May 29.
Continuing bombing attacks strike fear in Nigerians. It scares away the much needed investors, and hampers economic growth. Despite this reality, the President is confident that Boko Haram’s ability to attack and hold any Nigerian territory will be eliminated. The Borno State governor has said that before Buhari assumed office “Borno was in a very sorry state as Boko Haram terrorists had 20 councils under them, now; all but three have been liberated”.
The President also remarked that things had gotten better within the military as well. He said troops had been reorganised, retrained, and re-equipped. But if the situation is really as rosy as the government claims it is, why then has Boko Haram been able to continue their attacks?
The situation according to the executive
In an interview President Buhari gave on Al-Jazeera, he stated, “Boko Haram’s area of operation has been limited to mainly Borno and Yobe states.’’ He went on to say that the group had been “reduced” to using IEDs “only” and that all their occupied ground had been taken back as the group was now virtually confined to Sambisa forest. He also stated that the Boko Haram was “highly disorganised.”
With these comments coming directly from the President, it can be presumed that this is the mindset of the administration and the defense chiefs. If that is the case, there seems to be some gaps between their beliefs and what is being reported in the news.
The military offensive has indeed been effective in driving out Boko Haram from many of their strong holds. However, contrary to what the president said, their areas of operation have not been limited to just Borno and Yobe States. There has been an uptick in bombing attacks in Adamawa and in the neighbouring countries (Niger, Chad and Cameroon). This month we saw an attack in Abuja, we witnessed arrests of suspected Boko Haram insurgents in other parts of the country including Enugu and Lagos States, and there are even some disturbing reports that some insurgents have been operating in Kogi State. The military offensive actually seems to have dispersed the members of the group to other parts of Nigeria where military presence is not as prevalent and where they can carry out additional attacks and achieve their expansion goals.
Boko Haram’s reliance on IEDs must not be down played
The second thing the President said was that the group had been “reduced” to IED attacks. The adoption of IED attacks is by no means a reduction. Instead, it has just escalated the fight to a whole new level. It has taken the fight from “Boko Haram versus security operatives”, to “Boko Haram versus every single Nigerian.”
Employing IEDs is an effective method of attack due to the ease with which, it appears, materials to make the device is acquired. IED attacks also cause mass casualties, which in turn gives Boko Haram a lot of publicity, making them seem more powerful than they actually are.
Buhari also said on Al-Jazeera: “The use of IEDs by Boko Haram may continue beyond the target that we gave, but attacks by Boko Haram on townships, military installations, will certainly stop”. The President, known to be an expert in warfare his pronouncement is soothing and reassuring. On the contrary, however, it would seem that if the use of use of IEDs continues, then the attacks on townships and military installations are most likely to continue. The insurgents will simply employ these same IED tactics to physical structures as we have seen in the recent attacks on mosques and other places of huge gathering. As long as the insurgents deem IED attacks an effective attack strategy, they will more than likely attempt to use it against military installations.
Boko Haram is re-strategizing; Is the military doing the same?
The insurgents have reduced conventional full-scale frontal attacks against troops and their installations. However, we saw a resurgence of this tactic again this month. About 100 insurgents were killed, after they attacked a military installation in Yobe in an incident. There was also another incident in Adamawa in which some 30 insurgents lost their lives after they confronted soldiers in Madagali Local Government Area.
A recent incident in Adamawa state indicated a possible Boko Haram strategy change when insurgents raided a village, forcing residents to flee into a nearby bush and then deployed two suicide bombers to join the fleeing villagers. The bombers then detonated in the bush where many villagers were hiding and other fleeing survivors were shot at by the insurgents.
All these incidents occurred this month which shows that attacks on townships and military installations are still ongoing despite the military’s best efforts to track down and dislodge the insurgents from the North-East. The military was making great gains in taking back territory and clearing out the Boko Haram hideouts. The Military high command should however be mindful that the terrorists have changed their strategy and adopted new tactics. Conventional methods alone will not be successful in defeating Boko Haram by December.
The military will have to re-strategize and shift to more counter-insurgency measures that are primarily intelligence led, with more efforts put into the insurgent network identification, targeting and counter-IED exploitation and analysis.
Nyanya Bombing Suspects caught with several IEDs and IED making materials. Source: Google
Analysis: The young ages of the bombing suspects highlight the need for improving socio-economic conditions for the many unemployed youth in the country so as to prevent them from seeing criminal activities as an ideal means of earning a living.
The insurgents have a goal of killing innocent civilians, destabilizing the country, and defeating the military and other security operatives in the country. They must be disorganized.
Their choice of soft-targets is indicative of a group that is thinking and following an established tactic, technique and procedure. They are choosing Mosques during prayers, attacking military installations and attempting troop ambushes, they started by deploying two suicide bombers at a go, and then three and now detonating four IEDs at the same time. Another tactic is their combining village in raids with suicide IEDs.
The President needs a red team
There is a phenomenon that occurs in the strategic military level and even within the intelligence community known as group think. Groupthink refers to a situation whereby in-group pressure for consensus prevents common sense desire to present alternative opinions. In other words, if everyone in a group says yes to the “oga” in the room, you are afraid to say no for fear of causing disharmony or for fear of repercussions. Even though you know the correct answer is no.
For example, imagine a meeting with President Buhari and his service chiefs where the president asks them how they are doing with regards to meeting the three months deadline to defeat Boko Haram. Everyone in the group says the military is on track, the insurgents are now weak and all is well. One of the leaders in that meeting knows that things are not as rosy as they seem, but he is afraid to voice his opinion and provide an alternative strategy. This is what groupthink is all about. .
A Red Team is an independent group that challenges the prevalent assumption and presents alternative outcomes. In the case of our example, a Red team advising the President on Boko Haram will not focus on the military’s successes, but on Boko Haram’s successes and how they are adapting and adopting new attack strategies that are successful.
Just as the president has meetings with his defense team on the status of the Boko Haram insurgency, so also will he sit with his Red team and get the status of Boko Haram’s successes. It is in doing this that the he will have a clearer understanding as to which team is really winning and who can defeat whom by December.
The people should do their part
There is only so much the government, the multinational forces, the Nigerian military, can do to protect the community. The people still need to do their own part. For example, after a bomb blast that occurred in Borno, two people were arrested because they were seen celebrating at the incident that just occurred. According to the report, “The two men were standing from afar and hugging each other in a celebratory manner”.
Also, four suspected Boko Haram insurgents were arrested while trying to gain entry into an IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp. Members of the IDP camp confirmed the suspects’ affiliation with Boko Haram as they recognized them from their village. Those who may have previously sympathized with Boko Haram are now taking a stance against them. They are beginning to understand that the incongruous and destructive agenda of the group is in no one’s best interest. Members of the community must continue to be aware of any new or strange faces in the area and notify the appropriate authorities or report suspicious behavior even among familiar faces.
Ashiru is a U.S. Air Force veteran with over 12 years of experience in All-Source Intelligence and counter improvised explosive device (CIED) analysis. She has been involved in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations in support of Multi-National Forces in Southwest Asia, Middle East and North Africa.
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