• Thursday, June 13, 2024
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BusinessDay

A military strategy analysis of the 6-week Boko Haram campaign

Viability of the 6-week campaign
Postponing the elections for a 6-week offensive campaign to beat back Boko Haram is simply not realistic. Why? Nigeria’s military is simply not capable of such an operation. Recently, the joint training/operations between the US and Nigeria to develop an elite Ranger-like Battalion with advanced infantry skills to deal with the Boko Haram issue was halted following disagreements between the two countries. The USA accused Nigeria of committing some human rights violations in the northern part of Nigeria as it waged war on Boko Haram and therefore refused to either continue the training or sell it any of the lethal weapons Nigeria was requesting. So Nigeria has no specialized elite force that is already trained and ready to do battle with Boko Haram.

A typical offensive against a deeply entrenched target takes longer than 6 weeks both in terms of preparations and execution. Intelligence operatives would need to gather information and narrow down locations where the core of the target resides, draw out the layout of the areas, line up logistically support lines to sustain the operation, and plan for contingencies. Such an operation is complex and requires sophisticated organization by a mature army that has substantial training in dealing with counter-insurgencies. Nigeria’s military can neither support such an operation nor are they trained to do so.

Furthermore, if it is simply an operation to push back and secure the areas that are currently being controlled by BH, then it would require a huge commitment in terms of personnel (4-6 Brigades) from the Nigerian military, and most likely a joint services operation with the Nigerian Air Force. The Nigerian forces would need to patrol entire states from Kaduna (which is just north of the FCT Abuja) and clear all the way up to Katsina State and then pust east towards the border where Chad, Niger and Cameroon meet. Such a task cannot be completed in 6 weeks and definitely not by the Nigerian Army. If Nigeria works with Chadian, Nigerien and Cameroonian forces, then some progress could be achieved if such a joint operation was undertaken, but again it is unlikely to be completed in time to declare it safe to hold the elections.

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Current state of Nigerian military
Currently, the large portions of the Nigerian military are essential police force incapable of large-scale offensive military operations. Since the Obasanjo administration, the Nigerian military has been defanged for fear of military coups. Soldiers appear to be under-trained for actual military operations, and soldiers operate mostly as an extension of the police force, conducting roadside checkpoints. As for weapons and equipment, it is apparent by the current massive court-martials taking place in various army headquarters, that some soldiers have simply refused to take orders to go into battle against Boko Haram because they find themselves under-equipped and ill-prepared against the very well-armed and trained Boko Haram forces.

Telegraphing strategy
Not only is it nearly impossible to defeat Boko Haram in a 6-week timeline, but it is especially difficult when you telegraph your plans to the target. The element of surprise is a useful tactic used in offensive operations and by publicly announcing such an offensive, it allows Boko Haram to counter such an operation by either temporarily retreating to wait-out the offensive or devise other strategies to thwart the effectiveness of the Nigerian offensive (i.e., using more suicide bombers versus outright show of force operations).

Equipment and capabilities

Boko Haram has shown a superior fighting force to the Nigerian military. A cursory look at any of the videos showing some of their offensive operations against Nigerian military target reveals their movements is coordinated and rehearsed, and they are able to operate large military-style weapons and armoured personnel carriers (APC). They cannot simply be regarded as a ragtag band of militants. They almost display far better organization, coordination, and sophistication than the Nigerian military.

Freedom of movement by BH
BH continues to enjoy a freedom of movement in the northeastern part of Nigeria and across the border into Niger, Chad, and Cameroon. Looking on the map of their areas of operation, one can see that they have been able to come all the way to Abuja and are able to conduct attacks almost with no disturbance north of the FCT.

Possibility of success
There are numerous reasons why this 6-week offensive will not be successful but there are some reasons why it could be. Nigeria would need to seriously court other forces (African Union as well as western countries, i.e., UK and USA). But even that will not guarantee success because in war/battle, there are simply too many variables and unknown factors that can tip the scales either in favour of success or against it. Nigeria has had almost 6 years to deal with the Boko Haram issue and during those 6 years, Boko Haram has grown in size, notoriety, and sophistication. They have expanded their areas of control and they have likely attracted new younger recruits who see their options as either join or be killed.

This diminishes the likelihood of a Nigerian success.

Implications on election
Even if the postponed elections occur, large parts of the northeast of Nigeria will not be able to participate, raising serious constitutional issues about the legitimacy of the vote and also whether the constitutional provision saying that the winner of the presidential vote ought to win 25 percent of the votes in two-thirds of the states can be satisfied.

C. Ogwuegbu-Stephens