BOKO HARAM/ISWAP - AN IN-DEPTH ANALYSIS OF RECENT CIVILIAN SOFT TARGET ATTACKS
In the early morning hours of Saturday 13th of June 2020, armed groups linked to Boko Haram/ISWAP sleeper cells launched multiple attacks. The attacks were targeted at vulnerable civilians in the villages of Goni Sherrifti; Goni Usmanti; Minamari village; Mariram village-felo ward at Gubio Local Government Area (LGA) and Monguno town along Monguno Marte road.
Subsequently, a fierce fist to fist and close-quarters battle ensued between the Boko Haram/ ISWAP fighters and a coordinated ground and aerial response from the local Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF). This was further reinforced by a coordinated ground and aerial response from the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Air Force and Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) troops of sector 3 in various locations in Borno State-North East Nigeria.
Early reports indicate a total of 42 civilian casualties. Three gun-trucks belonging to the insurgents were destroyed while several dozens of insurgents were neutralized by 2 Air-Force jets. The intensified bombardment forced the terrorist to withdraw and flee abandoning 9 gun-trucks filled with jerry-cans of fuel.
The attack began in Goni Usmanti with terrorist on gun-trucks and several motorbikes shooting civilians. 29 civilians died in Goni Usmanti. The Jihadist moved to the village of Mainmari and killed 13 more civilians. On sighting the response convoy of the Nigerian Army from Gubio, the jihadist fled from the scene. On retreat, the insurgents attacked and razed the entire Mariram village. The militants attacked Monguno town at about 11:50 am, through the Charly 1 and Charly 6 entry points shooting dozens of rocket propelled grenade and Anti aircraft guns. At about 12:30pm, the insurgents overran two military formations and forced themselves into the town where they fired several bullets in an IDPs camp. Scores of people were said to have been hit with stray bullets during a crossfire with the troops of Sector 3, MNJTF. The insurgents burnt down a United Nation(UN) Humanitarian hub and several vehicles before disappearing.
Why ISWAP Targets civilian population:
The recent increase in Boko Haram/ISWAP attacks on Muslim civilian population is another major sign of the group’s battlefield nemesis. Renewed attacks on Muslim civilians emerge after a series of coordinated ground and aerial raids by the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Air Force – and the sector 3, MNJTF Multi against Boko Haram strongest positions in the Sambisa Forest and the Lake Chad Islands. The joint offensive led by the Chief of Army Staff Lt-Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai under operation LAFIYA DOLE at Tumbu Gini deflated the strength of the insurgent group as most of Boko Haram/ISWAP fighters and commanders were neutralised and mortally wounded. Some ground sources put the figures above 1000. Although the challenging terrain renders post casualty analysis very difficult for precision.
Boko Haram Commander Cabinet Reshuffled:
The Nigerian Armed Forces and MNJTF successful offensive forced the surviving Boko Haram/ISWAP factions to escape and establish new hideouts. With proactive ‘See something–Say something’ engagement of local communities, the Military Intelligence units of the Nigerian Army and MNJTF have been tracking fleeing jihadist. The efforts targeted around Kumowan, Nganzai LGA and Bidda/Kulli in Marte LGA, Borno State has yielded tremendous success. Many collaborators, sleeper cells commanders and suppliers were nabbed but others went underground.
As a result of heavy personnel loses, the AZWAJ leadership directed for a swift reform of the Boko Haram/ISWAP internal structure. A move triggered by gun shot wounds suffered by the governor of the Tunbuns Amir Baba-Kaka. Boko Haram ISWAP Shura Council directed the reshuffling of fighting teams and top ‘Commanders cabinet’. In an unprecedented move, the jihadist leaders forced out about 1,000 fishermen suspected of acting as spies from the axis of Arinna Soro; Kirta, Sabon Tumbu; Tundun Wulgo; Kusuma others. More than 100 new unit commanders were appointed as replacements. Amongst the newly appointed commanders is one Mohammed Njidda – a notorious Boko Haram member who in known to operate along Marte LGA river banks.
Unit commanders found guilty of disloyalty; showing signs of entertaining rumoured negotiations with the Nigeria state authorities or simply not taken orders from the leadership received a range of punishments. Some were slaughtered; others ostracised from the group; and some demoted to ordinary fighters or slaves. A move that has further generated discontent and suspicion within the jihadist loose command and control structure.
The offensives forced Boko Haram ISWAP to mass recruit to replenish its fighting force. The leadership has recruited, trained and graduated about 5000 militants including more than 500 child soldiers including suicide bombers – between the ages of 12-16. These new commanders and militants are under life and death instructions to plan and launch a series of attacks against soft civilian and hard military targets.
Why is ISWAP attacking Civilians:
To win hearts and minds of the local population, ISWAP had promised not to attack Muslim civilians or destroy the properties of Muslim civilian communities. The attack in Gubio LGA which led to the killing of about 89 Muslim civilians and rustling of about 2250 cattle changed the narrative. So why a change of strategy to attack civilian Muslim targets?
No singular reason will fully explain the motive behind the Boko Haram/ISWAP attacks on Muslim cattle rearing communities like Faduma Koloram in Gubio LGA. But the fear of information sharing is one big factor. Boko Haram/ISWAP is concerned that some resettled Muslim communities with in-depth knowledge of the terrain (due to their nomadic nature) are responsible for leaking vital information to the Nigeria security services. And that such information may have contributed to several successful aerial and ground offensives on Boko Haram ISWAP strongholds in North East Nigeria and the Lake Chad Islands.
For Future attacks on Military positions:
From a Boko Haram ISWAP operations angle – resettled communities along strategic routes used by ISWAP to launch attacks on Nigeria Army positions pose a security threat – more so if these communities are known to have a good relationship with Local State authorities. The Borno state government’s promise to resettle more IDPs back to their communities in Abadam, Damasak, Marte and Kukawa LGAs has been received with outrage from Boko Haram ISWAP. The jihadist are worried that individuals within resettled communities will act as spies on their activities.
In effect, any planned surprise attack on military positions risk being sabotaged by informants within the resettled communities. The ISWAP faction recently printed and distributed warning leaflets in Hausa language advising Muslims to avoid relocations to certain LGA as their jihad is against polytheist, white Christian Westerners and non believers. The attacks along Goni Sherrifti; Goni Usmanti; Minamari village; and Mariram village-felo ward at Gubio LGA is a likely follow on to the warnings but also meant to clear a path for future attacks on military super camp positions without compromise.
As the rainy season unfolds, Boko Haram/ISWAP factions need to stockpile food and other non-edible items to survive regular food scarcity during the heavy raining season period. In addition to hundreds of new recruits, jihadist need enough food and money to feed fighters, provide them with needed medication, arms and monthly allowances. Irregular kidnapping for ransom, foreign and local ‘Zakat’ does not guarantee immediate and regular cash flow for Boko Haram ISWAP factions in comparison to ‘low hanging fruit’ revenue streams like cattle rustling, local taxation and fish processing from the popular fish market in the Lake Chad basin. If Boko Haram/ISWAP suspects that a community is spying on their activities and reporting same to the security services, violent attacks on the community and rustling of cattle is a routine tactic.
Indeed, the combined and coordinated aerial and ground troop offensive aided by local hunters; CJTF, has restored normalcy in the affected villages after hours of fierce fighting. Nonetheless, sporadic Boko Haram/ISWAP jihadists’ attacks will continue in the upcoming days and weeks. They will continue targeting soft civilian and hard military positions in Borno State, Northern Nigeria. Each local, regional and international stakeholder has a role to play in the decade-plus war against terror in North East Nigeria and the Lake Chad basin region. A comprehensive but genuine civil-military relationship founded on security and trust is the key to any successful counter insurgency against Boko Haram/ISWAP. See something – Say Something!!!
David Otto, CMAS – Director of Counter Terrorism & Organized Crime at Global Risk International Ltd UK. Twitter: @ottotgs