Real Battle to Dislodge Boko Haram Begins in March
Nigeria’s security chiefs may have unilaterally decided a time framework to subdue Boko Haram terrorists, when they said they needed six weeks to accomplish the task, beginning 14 February. This is because the shape of the regional force Nigeria is relying upon to flush out the insurgents is yet to be concluded.
Also on Friday, the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) dismissed the recent report of an helicopter distributing pamphlets implying the surrender of some members of the Boko Haram terrorists.
Although Nigeria’s armed forces in league with neighbouring armies of Niger, Cameroon and Chad have since stepped up the war against the insurgents, bombarding camps inside Nigeria, the real ground-and-air offensive is not scheduled to begin until end of March, when the regional force will become operational.
A senior Niger Republic military officer disclosed in an interview with Reuters in N’djamena, Chad, that the shape of the regional force Nigeria is relying upon to flush out the insurgents would be concluded by the end of March.
Military chiefs of Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Benin and Niger will meet in the Chadian capital N’Djamena next week to finalise strategy for the 8,700-strong task-force of regional troops, said Colonel Mahamane Laminou Sani, director of documentation and military intelligence of Niger’s armed forces.
“All we are doing right now is stopping Boko Haram from entering Niger: if they attack our positions we push them back a certain distance and Nigeria pushes from the other side to contain the situation,” he said, on the sidelines of the annual US-sponsored ‘Flintlock’ counter-terrorism exercises in Chad.
“There are initiatives by our countries to make sure Boko Haram doesn’t get out of control, but we have a deadline of end-March to put the joint force into practice,” he told Reuters late on Wednesday.
Highlighting the cross-border threat, militants attacked Niger overnight, killing three before they were driven back.
“The force’s first commander will be a Nigerian and the position will then rotate annually among members,” Sani said.
The implementation of the force has been delayed by tensions between Nigeria and Cameroon over the right to pursue militants across the border into each other’s countries, sources said.
Niger and Chad already have agreements in place covering that with each other and with Nigeria. Nigeria and Cameroon will be under pressure to iron out their differences.
“This should be the last meeting, I think. We don’t have any choice. If we don’t go and find Boko Haram, they are going to come and find us,” Sani said.
“Niger’s military has carried out air strikes against Boko Haram positions and used ground forces to mop up the survivors,” Sani said.
Sahelien.com, a regional news website, reported raids by Niger’s troops who entered the Nigerian town of Marara on February 15 and air strikes on Damasak on February 16. A security source said the reports were accurate but gave no further details.
Sani denied the Niger air force was responsible for an attack on Tuesday that killed at least 36 civilians at a funeral in the border village of Abadam.
A local mayor said he believed a Nigerian military plane was responsible. Nigeria has denied this and Niger has said it is investigating.
“Air power will play a key role but ground troops will then be used to neutralise survivors in the wooded and mountainous terrain occupied by the Sunni jihadist group,” Sani said
“Information on their location needs to come from human sources first, then you send technological resources to check it, and you maintain observation on them until air strikes arrive,” he said.
Asked whether the U.S. military could help with drone intelligence on fighters’ movements, he said: “That is already a reality. They help us in that sense.”
“This is no longer an issue of national security for Nigeria; it’s a question of regional and international security. If Nigeria implodes, then the whole of Africa will feel it,” he said.
Boko Haram is said to have between 4,000-6,000 fighters, according to US intelligence report. The insurgents themselves estimate their forces at 30,000. Subduing them, in the view of military analysts, may not be as easy as ending a six-week affair, reports Reuters.
Meanwhile, the Defence Headquarters has dismissed the recent report of a helicopter distributing pamphlets implying the surrender of some members of the dreaded Boko Haram terrorists in some parts of North-east.
The Director of Defence Information (DDI), Maj-Gen. Chris Olukolade, said if such action was taken at all by the so-called repentant terrorists, it could not be genuine.
According to Olukolade, “That is not how to surrender. There are proper ways of surrendering and making amends. I am sure if such report is true, it is not how to surrender”.
He insisted that the military was much concerned with sustaining their ongoing offensive and completing the routing of the Boko Haram terrorists from there enclaves.
It could be recalled that thousands of terrorists have been killed and major towns and communities recovered since the renewed onslaught involving forces from the neighbouring Lake Chad Commission countries of Chad, Cameroun and Niger Republic. In the last two weeks strategic towns like Mongonu, Gamboru Ngala, Dikwa, and Marte have been recaptured, while Baga and Bama is on the mop up stage with new fronts of aerial bombardment opened in Sambisa and Gwoza.
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