'OP FIREBALL' NIGERIAN MILITARY SPITS FIRE ON 'HIGHWAY ISWAP UNITS' BUT NOT WITHOUT SACRIFICES
On October 12, 2020, the Nigerian Army Theatre Command ‘Operation LAFIYA DOLE’ AKA ‘Peace By Force’ - Headquarters in Maiduguri- Borno State - launched ‘Op FIREBALL’ blocking all major roads to Maiduguri surrounding a geographical location known as the ‘Timbuktu Triangle’ from 0600hrs-1500hr local time.
The main roads mapped for this operation were identified as Maiduguri-Ngamdu- Damaturu road; Maiduguri – Buni Gari – Biu road ; Maiduguri- Damboa – Biu road and Ngamdu -Goniri- Damboa road.
This is not the first time the Nigerian Army is closing roads around the ‘Timbuktu Triangle’ particularly the Maiduguri- Damboa road to clear the area of Boko Haram jihadist presence and activities but this comes at a very strategic time.
The Borno State Government is currently engaged in executing plans for resettlement of IDPs back to their ancestral homes in Baga, Kukawa, Marte etc and this return process cannot be effective without freedom of movement along these roads – but recent Boko Haram ISWAP jihadist and criminal activities have made the relocation process challenging and risky.
‘Op FIREBALL’ is launched after an observed increase of disruptions and incidents of high profile ambush attacks by suspected ISWAP jihadist units and criminals targeting State security forces, commercial vehicles and state convoys.
Jihadist are notorious for using kidnap for ransom tactics; illegal vehicle check points for forced taxation; targeted assassinations and theft/diversion of Humanitarian (INGOs) relief materials including medication, food and non-food items regularly sourced by desperate jihadist and criminal elements to survive the ongoing insurgency.
The Timbuktu Triangle:
The Nigerian Military identified a number of key roads surrounding the ‘Timbuktu Triangle’ as the primary focus of ‘Op FIREBALL’. It should be expected that ISWAP and other criminal elements will either resist, retreat from these Identified roads, wait for ‘normalcy’ to return or move their criminal activities to other major roads not mapped out - a major challenge of asymmetric warfare.
Battlefield Assessment so far:
Ground sources say a huge ground and aerial battle-field success has so far been attained by a mixed ‘Op FIREBALL’ brigade of the Nigerian Military with several clearance/detonation of planted Improvise Explosive Devices (IEDs) along some the roads (one around location given as Ganinga- Doksa) in and around the Timbuktu Triangle.
Impeccable sources have reported a huge number of casualties after the launching of subsidiary Operation code-named “WUTAR TABKI” targeting more hideouts of organised criminal groups (AOGs) and jihadist units linked to ISWAP faction around Tudun Wulgo and Tumbun Gini close to the fringes of Lake Chad Basin.
The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) coordinated fighter jets Operation took place on October 15, 2020.
Some ISWAP units have been spotted fleeing from hideouts in search of alternative safe-havens – the Nigerian Army has extended operation ‘Fire Ball’ in pursuit of ISWAP units heading to other locations outside the Timbuktu Triangle.
On October 17, 2020, Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai, was seen dressed in military fatigue alongside battle tested artillery weapons conducting and commanding clearance operations in a location given as Ngamdu, close to the Goniri forest , a strategic hideout and escape route of ISWAP units terrorising commuters , INGOs and Security/military logistic convoys in the Timbuktu Triangle.
The current operational road safety benefits of ‘Op FIREBALL” have not be achieved without sacrifices from the Nigerian Military in both personnel and military hardware.
By midday October 16, 2020, sources confirm that two Nigerian Army task force brigades were ambushed by heavily armed ISWAP units along Damaturu and Damboa.
The ensuing fire fight, reinforcement, chase and recovery battle lasted about 4 hours. Nine (9) brave soldiers were sacrificed in action; 7 wounded and 2 soldiers were unaccounted for/missing in action (sources suspect as either escaped in the chaos or abducted by the assailants).
Some of the ISWAP robbery units carted away with 5 machine Gun-trucks; 8 Motorcycles; 1Mitsubishi CANTER; 8 AK 47 riffles ; 1 RPG tube /3RPGs; ammunitions; and handheld communication devices.
The Nigerian Air Force, ground reinforcement in direct field command of COAS Lt Gen.Tukur Yusufu Buratai has been in active pursuit of the fleeing jihadist along the deep Ngamdu-Goniri forest. Several ISWAP Jihadist have already been neutralised but others managed to escape with gun-shot wounds as the pursuit continues at the time of writing.
To prevent ISWAP jihadist units from escaping from the ‘Timbuktu Triangle’ ring to seek refuge and set operations in other known routes , sources familiar with the road network in the region have identified eight (8) major roads for the Nigerian Army to include in ‘Op FIREBALL’.
Some of these roads are outside the ‘Timbuktu Triangle’ and have been the subject of ambush attacks by suspected elements linked to Boko Haram Shekau JAS faction, ISWAP faction and loosely affiliated criminal groups.
The 8 Roads ‘That Kill’: Please note, Kilometres (Km) may vary depending on routes taken.
1) Maiduguri - Damaturu Road : Maiduguri the Borno state capital to Damaturu the Yobe state capital is about 131km – North West
2) Maiduguri to Damboa LGA to Biu LGA is about 170km – Southwest (abundance of hiding places – highest load of casualties on the military – potholes – first location for BH dominance – human shield)
3) Maiduguri to Monguno LGA – Kukawa LGA (Baga is Capital of Kukawa) 154km
4) Maiduguri to Mobbar LGA 154km
5) Maiduguri - Dikwa LGA - Ngala LGA about 130km.
6) Maiduguri - Bama LGA - about 98km.
7) Gwoza LGA - Adamawa State about 297km
8) Maiduguri – Kano Highway - 505km
Why Are These Roads A subject of Regular Ambush Attacks?
Some of these roads have accounted for a significant number of casualties and kidnappings in the decade long conflict in the North East of Nigeria.
The deplorable state (potholes) and demography (surrounding terrain, blind spots) of these roads provide a perfect location for organised armed terrorist and criminal groups to hide and set up ambush and escape.
All the above roads have in the past presented an easy means of supply and resupply (food, drugs, petroleum products, building materials and other essential supplies) chain for criminals and Boko Haram ISWAP insurgents.
They loot motor convoys of goods and kidnap for ransom. The Nigerian security Forces, government staff and Non-Government Organization (INGOs) Staff are considered high value targets (HVTs) for propaganda and to spread terror among the citizenry.
Despite the challenges in battlefield sacrifices, It is hoped that the recorded successes of ‘Op FIREBALL’ will lead to the reopening of major roads within and outside the Timbuktu Triangle – easing the return to normalcy in Borno State – The ‘Home of Peace’.
About The Author
David Otto is an International Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime Expert. The Director for Counter Terrorism Programme Design- Stepped In Step Out UK Ltd - He is a Certified Anti -Terrorism Specialist (CAS), a Certified Master Anti-Terrorism Specialist (CMAS) and a programme trainer with the Anti-Terrorism Accreditation Board (ATAB).