BOKO HARAM: WEAKENED AND CHOLERA HIT ABUBAKAR SHEKAU FACTION SUFFERS MASSIVE DEFECTION
The fighting capacity of Abubakar Shekau’s Boko Haram terrorists group’s JAS faction has been further weakened by a sudden defection of about 80 fighters to the ISIS-linked - Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP). The ISWAP faction is led by Amir Abubakar Ba Lawan and Abu Musab Al-Barnawi – one of the surviving sons of Boko Haram jihadists founder, the late Mohammed Yusuf.
Sources with knowledge of the jihadists activities confirmed that the recent defection of JAS fighters with their families followed the outbreak of deadly cholera epidemic which was further exacerbated by hunger in the Abubakar Shekau’s JAS stronghold.
According impeccable sources, this made worse by the failure of the terror leadership to prepare for and manage food shortage and the disease outbreak during known periods of heavy rains and floods in their hideouts and camps. One of the most fundamental reasons is the fact that the Shekau’s faction is in serious dearth of arms and ammunition. Accordingly, some of the defectors are said to have expressed disappointment in the continuous power-mongering, selfishness and tyrannical rule under Abubakar Shekau.
To compound their dilemma, the faction has been unable to maintain control of its area of influence in Northern Borno after a series of internal leadership crisis and factional competition for territorial control with rival units loyal to the ISIS-affiliated ISWAP/Boko Haram terrorists group faction.
This massive defection is an additional battlefield and moral disaster for Abubakar Shekau’s Boko Haram terrorists group’s JAS faction. It exposes the insignificance and fragility of the group’s loose cell-based structure kept together only by a thread of irregular propaganda materials and the reliance on the asymmetric nature of the insurgency to gain relevance. It reaffirms the weak and shadow state of Abubakar Shekau’s leadership hold on JAS faction. Although he may still be alive and in-charge of JAS, but his faction is only relevant when connected to the activities of ISWAP against the interest of JAS.
The defection from JAS comes at a strategic time for ISWAP, hence a win-win scenario for the group’s planned violent activities hampered by lack of experienced fighters. ISWAP has been the most active of all jihadists /armed criminal gangs in the region. However, the ISIS-linked ISWAP is also at its weakest capacity since it pledged allegiance to ISIS in March 2015. Its unstable leadership and unit commanders have been severely depleted following the series of successful ground and aerial coordinated offensive attacks by the Nigerian Army, Chadian forces, and regional troops of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF). Any additional fighters may be a huge gain for ISWAP, irrespective of the source or where they mobilise them from.
Sources on the ground have also said that the ISIS affiliated ISWAP has provided a safe haven for the families of the defectors. They are made up of 10 females believed to be their wives and about 8 children, 3 girls and 5 boys aged between 8 to 10 years old.
Caution and alert on likely loyalty test attacks
The loyalty of the defectors from Abubakar Shekau’s Boko Haram terrorists group JAS will be tested in the battlefield in what sources have described as a likely planned ISWAP joint attacks against Nigerian troops and other security agencies deployed in Baga general area. Some of the defected fighters have already been deployed among their hosts to familiarise themselves. The identified locations were along the Fish Dam areas in Baga general area, with a particular location given as Garin Mata showing significant presence of the newly deployed defectors.
Informed sources described the Baga axis as very strategic location for ISWAP activities, as maintaining presence in Baga is key for the jihadists’ group’s daily survival, recruitment and fundraising activities. ISWAP may be prepared to make a sacrifice in their determined efforts to prevent and frustrate planned relocation of IDPs to Baga town and the holding of the first local government elections planned for November 28th 2020 by the Borno State government.
Defections, internal rivalries and successful counter-insurgency efforts need to be comprehensively coordinated and sustained from the ongoing onslaught of ‘Operation LAFIYA DOLE’ to ‘Operation Boma Wrath’ and the existing MNJTF ‘Operation ‘Yancin Tafki.’
The Boko Haram ISWAP jihadist factions operate complex network cells within states of the Lake Chad Basin. Both JAS and ISWAP Boko Haram terrorists groups may be experiencing battlefield decline. However, only a genuine and effective coordination of national, regional and international civil and military intervention backed by trust from the local affected population will defeat the ideology and violent activities of ISIS and Al-Qaeda factions along the borders of Lake Chad basin states.
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).