By Barnabas Joshua
The tide has definitely turned in the protracted war of attrition against Boko Haram insurgents and their bandit offshoots. The insurgents have been dropping their weapons and surrendering in droves under awesome firepower and bandits abandon forests as they face a new normal of non-kinetic assaults that AK47s cannot counter. These turn-around events are results of strategic transformations in operational strategies of our defense and security forces.
The balance of terror has dramatically and effectively tilted against the terrorist-insurgents as the battle has been brought to their dens and hideouts in a retaliatory recourse to “unconventional tactics” by the gallant defense and security forces. Riding motor-bike convoys under the cover of thick forests to launch heartless attacks on sleeping villagers, rustling their livestock and barns and then kidnapping them for ransom was the bandits’ brigandage unconventional streak. Thus, endless “asymmetric” wars with calculated consequences against besieged populations were unleashed with seemingly invincible frequency.
In a most appropriate response, the nation’s defense and security forces embarked on a profound recalibration of strategy driven by a meticulous process of consolidation of operational specializations across the various arms. There was a felt need for a decisive turn in the trend of the long-drawn war, which necessitated a change of top military commanders, upgrade of the lethal capacity of the arsenals and significant increase in logistics and boots on the ground. These transformations were further fine-tuned to impact the differing demands of the Boko Haram territorial insurgency in the North East and its spill-over of armed militia occupying forests mainly in the North West with devastating outcomes. It should be recalled that the late Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Ibrahim Attahiru approved the renaming of the counterinsurgency operation in the North East from Operation Lafiya Dole to Operation Hadin Kai(because)“It is the belief of the COAS that the complete defeat of insurgency is a process that requires the participation of the entire nation using all elements of national power.”
The outstanding success of a strengthened solidarity among defense and security forces is gaining credible testimony. President Buhari acknowledged that the military and other security agencies including civilian stakeholders were adhering to the true spirit of Operation HADIN KAI, highlighting the successes in checking the insurgents’ activities in the “Timbuktu Triangle”, Sambisa Forest and the Lake Chad Region. “By pooling together the collective resources and comparative advantages of the Armed Forces and other security agencies, the enemy will now feel the ferocity of our firepower and the weight of our resolve,” he declared.
This is the context for on-going re-strategizing initiatives by the combined defense and security forces convincingly turning the tide against insurgents and bandits in the North East and North West. The rapid reversals in the trends of battle have also been widely acclaimed and welcome with relief by the victimized communities in the conflict zones as much anticipated actualization of expressed determination to take the battle to the insurgents. Indeed, their patriotic perseverance and cooperation had effectively integrated them into the highly rated civilian joint task force arrangement earlier deployed and still in action in the North East fronts.
The change in narratives on the war against Boko Haram insurgents from daring attacks to droves of surrenders by insurgents is therefore a marvelous manifestation of the successful operational synergy and attainment of optimum espirit de corps particularly among the defense and security forces. The awesome boost in ballistic onslaughts and relentless countering of insurgents maneuvers have combined with enhanced flow of actionable intelligence and civilian solidarity to confuse and devastate the “invincible”.
Adamu Rugurugu, a dreaded Boko Haram Commander from Gwoza axis who surrendered recently, reportedly referred to the infiltration of their fragmented factions with targeted triggers of psychological lament, confessing, “the reason for the surrender of our fighters was the results of extensive counter-insurgency messaging.” These joint operations have shifted public concern from the war to the challenge of safe containment of the growing number of surrendering insurgents, which is a positive indication of tangible advance not witnessed in many years.
Another area where the impact of intelligence-driven intervention is significantly changing the narratives on the security situation is in the North West axis where kidnapping and violent banditry has taken a huge toll on lives and property as well as the rural economy of Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna States. Evidence of a re-thinking of strategies and the adoption of intelligence-driven interventions capable of crippling the sustenance and mobility of the bandits have renewed higher expectations of a faster conquest of banditry.
In Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna State, new security containment regulations have taken effect. They include the immediate closure of roads, which are key access routes to the bandit-infested forests, prohibition of lorries/trucks conveying firewood from forests and the suspension of the sales of all animals at markets. Others are the ban on transportation of cattle in trucks, restrictions on riding motorcycles and operations of tricycles, ban on sales of second hand motorcycles and sale of petrol in jerry cans at filling stations. A Federal Government backed suspension of all telecommunication services in affected areas is the high point of the new measures.
The non-kinetic strategies have the probable imprints of the normally covert Department of State Services (DSS) considering how the measures are intelligent assaults on the facilitations and dependencies of the bandits as well as zonal deployments of regulations corresponding to their wide areas of operation. These prescriptions strategically complement kinetic military operations in which DSS has been a partner agency by focusing on effective deterrence and logistic obstacles such as the denial of tele-communications, access to markets, restrictions on fuelling and motorcycle operations.
Incidentally, last June, Kaduna was the host of the first-ever security meeting of the State Directors of Security in the North West zone of DSS, an innovative initiative of DGSS Alhaji Yusuf Magaji Bichi, to facilitate regular convergence of State Directors for exchange insights on emerging challenges in their zones, strategize containment solutions and facilitate inter-agency cooperation. In September it was the turn of the state Directors of the Department of State Service (DSS) in the North-East who met in Gombe. Both Governor Nasir El-Rufai and Governor Inuwa Yahaya spoke on the vital role of the DSS, as the lead agency for domestic intelligence and counter-intelligence, in providing reliable information needed by the police, armed forces and other security agencies for the total defeat of insurgents and urged them all to cooperate rather than compete.
The zonal meetings of the state directors of the DSS are examples of foresighted out-of-the-box strategies of the DG SSS, Yusuf Magaji Bichi, that take the insurgents by surprise with game-changing inputs for the accelerated termination of the deadly scourge of insurgency and related violent criminality afflicting the North East and North West as major manifestations of insecurity in Nigeria. As the sayings go, you cannot continue doing the same thing and expect a different outcome and good thinking leads to good outcome!
It is hoped that affected state governments will also deploy unflinching commitment to effectively monitor and maintain these promising measures for as long as is necessary to close the catastrophic chapter of insecurity finally. The increasing impact of counter-insurgency initiatives of the consolidated defense and security agencies should inspire similar mobilization and leadership initiatives by governors in security-challenged parts of the country to embark on stakeholder engagement programmes. They should carry along traditional, religious and community leaders, as well as hunters, vigilantes, youths and other relevant groups, to support and come up with more strategies to render bandits and insurgents in a permanent condition of helter-skelter.
BARNABAS JOSHUA wrote from Lafia