The commander in charge of ending Boko Haram’s seven-year insurgency in northeastern Nigeria announced at the end of August that the country’s army expects to seize the militant group’s last few strongholds in the northeastern region over the next few weeks.
According to Major General Lucky Irabor, commander of the operation, the militant group is now holed up in a few pockets of the Sambisa forest and two areas located near Lake Chad, adding that they would be flushed out “within weeks.” Sambisa forest is where more than 200 schoolgirls, who were kidnapped from the northeastern Nigerian town of Chibok in April 2014, are believed to be held. During an interview at his base in Maiduguri in Borno state, the birth place of the insurgency, Irabor disclosed that “almost all of the locations held by the Boko Haram terrorists have been reclaimed. We are talking only of a few villages and towns.” He further added that “there are joint operations. My commanders have an exchange with local commanders across the borders. Because of the collaborations we’ve had Boko Haram has been boxed in and in a few weeks you will hear good news.” He also disclosed that the militant group, who pledged loyalty to the so-called Islamic State (IS) group last year, were still in control of Abadan and Malafatori, two towns located near Lake Chad. The army is now planing a new push into the Sambisa forest after abandoning an attempt due to torrential rain.
The Nigerian army missed a December 2015 deadline that was set up by President Muhammadu Buhari to wipe out the militant group, which wants to set up an Islamic caliphate in the area around Lake Chad. The army has however retaken most of the group’s territory, which at one point was the size of Belgium, with much of the success being due to better military cooperation with Nigeria’s neighbours, particularly Chad, whose forces have ben attacking Boko Haram fighters fleeing across the border. Despite loosing territory, Boko Haram manages to stage regular suicide bombings in Nigeria and in neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Furthermore, since 2009, when the insurgency began, more than 15,000 people have been killed and a further 2.3 million have been displaced while the local economy has been decimated.
The move to retake the final areas of the northeastern region of the country comes after reports emerged that Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, may have been wounded or even killed in a recent air strike in the region. While there have been conflicting reports of Shekau’s status, Irabor has disclosed that the leader had recently been wounded, backing off an Air Force statement released earlier this month that suggested that he had been killed in an airstrike. Irabor disclosed, “Shekau was wounded. That’s what I can confirm, but as to whether he is dead that I cannot at the moment confirm.” Boko Haram, which normally communicates via video or audio clips posted o the Internet, has so far stated nothing since the 24 August Air Force statement about Shekau sustaining injuries in the airstrike.
Ukraine’s security service reported this month that it had blocked channels that were being used by jihadists travelling to fight with the so-called Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and neighbouring Iraq, adding that they detained an ‘IS recruiter’ from one of the former Soviet republics.
In a statement, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) disclosed that “the Ukrainian security service, prosecutor’s office, police and migration service have blocked several channels for the transit of foreign fighters to the IS international terrorist group throughout state’s territory,” adding that the discovery was made in a wave of security sweeps that were carried out across several major cities in the country. The SBU further reported that an apartment in the government-held northeastern city of Kharkiv was being used as a temporary shelter by alleged IS members who intended to travel to both Syria and Iraq. The statement says that “this ‘transit point’ had four nationals from Asian states,” adding, “two of them had been earlier deported from Turkey in connection with their involvement in terrorist activity.” The SBU also disclosed that they held several fake passports from various countries and that two of them had been waiting to receive forged Ukrainian documents so that they could enter Syria through Turkey. The Ukrainian service indicated that the four were being financed and assisted by foreign countries, however they did not reveal which ones, adding, “two of the foreigners have already been expelled from the territory of our state…Investigations into the other two are continuing.”
The SBU also disclosed that it had also detained an “IS recruiter from one of the former Soviet republics that was being sought by Interpol” pan-European police organization. It reported that security agents had detained another “IS supporter” in the Kiev region who had undergone training in “Syrian terrorist camps.” The individual, who has not been named, is facing a court hearing and has not yet been charged.
In January and June the SBU disclosed that it detained four alleged IS fighters headed for Europe from Central Asia and Russia.
Ukraine has been riven by a 27-month pro-Moscow insurgency in its industrial east that has claimed the lives of more than 9,500 people and left around 400 kilometres (250 miles) of its southeastern border with Russia under rebel control. Ukraine’s security service has been under increasing pressure to show its strength as the pro-Western government in Kiev ties to meet President Petro Poroshenko’s pledge to apply for EU membership by 2020. Some EU nations and leaders however have called the bid far too optimistic as Ukraine not only lacks control of its separatist east and the Russian-annexed Crimea peninsula, but it also remains riddled with other security threats. This includes what appears to be the increasing use of Ukraine and its porous borders to ship IS fighters to stage attacks in Europe or to joint he group in Syria and Iraq.
A United States Congressional report issued this month has found that the US Central Command’s analysis of the fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS) militants was too positive in 2014 and 2015, compared with events on the ground and other intelligence analysis. 2014 represented the height of IS’ rapid expansion as the militant group grabbed a swath of territory, effectively spreading from Iraq into central Syria.
The report was released by a task force that was established by the Republican chairmen of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, Intelligence Committee and Defense Appropriations subcommittee. It found “widespread dissatisfaction” amongst analysts at US Central Command who felt that their superiors wee distorting their products. In a statement, Republican Representative Ken Calvert, a member of the task force, discloses that “what happened at CENTCOM is unacceptable – our war fighters suffer when bad analysis is presented to senior policymakers. We must continue our efforts until we fix it.”
According to Patrick Evans, a Pentagon spokesman, the Department of Defense had initiated a separate investigation into the issue and would take no action or make any comment that could influence the inspector general’s work. As a general comment however, he stated that the intelligence community routinely provides a wide range of assessments, noting that “experts sometimes disagree on the interpretation of complex data, and the Intelligence Community and Department of Defense welcome healthy dialogue on these vital national security topics.”
The top United States commander for the fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS) group reported this month that military campaigns in Iraq and Syria have taken 45,000 enemy combatants off the battlefield and reduced the total number of IS fighters to as few as 15,000.
Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland disclosed that both the quality and number of IS fighters is declining, warning however that it is difficult to determine accurate estimates. Earlier estimates put the number of IS fighters between 19,000 and 25,000 however US officials have stated that the range is now roughly 15,000 to 20,000.
Stating that “the enemy is in retreat on all fronts,” MacFarland disclosed that US-backed local forces in both Iraq and in neighbouring Syria have been gaining ground, adding that the flow of foreign fighters into these two countries has decreased and that many people pressed into fighting for IS are unwilling or untrained. Speaking to Pentagon reporters during a video conference, MacFarland stated, “all I know is when we go someplace, its easier to go there now than it was a year ago. And the enemy doesn’t put up as much of a fight.”
MacFarland went on to state that Syrian democratic forces are on the brink of defeating IS in Manbij, Syria, in a matter of weeks. According to MacFarland, the city is largely in the hands of the Syrian democratic forces and the pockets of enemy resistance are shrinking daily, adding, “I don’t give it very long before that operation is concluded, and that will deal a decisive blow to the enemy.” Asked how long it will take, he stated possibly a week or two, however he noted that there was still a lot of enemy foreign fighters there battling hard to keep control of the city.
Meanwhile in neighbouring Iraq, MacFarland disclosed that Iraqi forces are in a position to begin to retake the northern city of Mosul, adding that the US still has quite a bit of work to do at the Qayyarah Air Base in northern Iraq before it can be used as a hub for the battle to retake Mosul. President Barack Obama authorized the deployment of 560 more US troops to Iraq in a bid to help transform the air base into a staging area for the eventual battle to oust IS from Mosul. The group has held the city since June 2014, using it as its headquarters. The US troops will include engineers, logistics personnel, security and communications forces. Some teams of US forces have been in and out of the base to evaluate it and the work that must be done, with officials stating that large numbers of troops have not yet arrived.
Despite successes in both countries against the militant group, MacFarland cautioned that Is will continue to be a threat, stating, “military success in Iraq and Syria will not necessarily mean the end of Daesh,” using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic state group.” H e went on to state that “we can expect the enemy to adapt, to morph into a true insurgent force and terrorist organization capable of horrific attacks like the one here on July 3 in Baghdad and those others we’ve seen around the world.”
While United States President Barack Obama was determined not to get into a full war in Syria and Iraq, statistics from the two-year campaign show that the war is far from over.
When the US-led coalition began bombing the so-called Islamic State (IS) group’s targets in Iraq and Syria, senior general and politicians warned at the time that it would be a “generational struggle” that would “last many years.” Two years on, that prediction has proved to be accurate and while the campaign has had its successes, it appears to be far from over.
More than 14,000 strikes have been carried out in the past two years at a cost of US $8.4 billion to the United States and US $365 million to the United Kingdom. In these strikes, some 26,000 targets have been either damaged or destroyed. Rather than lessening the campaign, officials have opted to step it up in its second year. In its second year, there have been 2,336 more airstrikes, which have also resulted in twice as many civilian deaths. According to a London-based monitor, called Airwars, 1,080 civilians have been killed. The Pentagon however assesses that only fifty-five civilians have been killed by US aircraft while the UK Ministry of Defense states that British airstrikes have not resulted in any innocent deaths. In Iraq, some 3.2 million Iraqis have been displaced, however the number of Syrians is considerably greater and this mass exodus has changed borders, swelled towns and emptied cities.
While when he first announced the airstrikes in 2014, President Barack Obama stated that he “…will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq,” that appears to have failed as there are currently some 3,800 US soldiers in Iraq. US, UK and French Special Forces are also operating in Iraq as well as in Syria. A further 400 American troops will also be deployed to an airbase south of Mosul to help the push on that strategic city.