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.
US officials have disclosed that the United States administration is seeking to approve a sale of as many as twelve A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft to Nigeria to aid in its battle against Boko Haram, in a vote of confidence in President Muhammadu Buhari’s drive to reform the country’s corruption-tainted military.
According to the officials, Washington is also dedicating more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to the campaign against the Islamist militants in the region and plans to provide additional training to Nigerian infantry forces. The possible sale, which the officials indicated was favoured within the US administration but which is still subject to review by Congress, effectively underscores the deepening US involvement in helping governments in northern and western Africa combat extremist groups. US Navy Vice Admiral Micahel Franken, a deputy commander of the Pentagon’s Africa Command, told a Washington forum last week that there are now 6,200 US troops, most of them Special Operations Forces, who are operating from 26 locations across the African continent.
The widening US military cooperation is apolitical victory for Nigerian President Buhari, who took office in May last year on a pledge to crack down on the rampant corruption that has undermined the armed forces in Africa’s most populous country. According to one US official, “the Buhari administration I think has really reenergized the bilateral relationship in a fundamental way.” The previous Nigerian government under former president Goodluck Jonathan had scorned the United States for blocking arms sales partly because of human rights concerns. It had also criticized Washington for failing to speed the sharing of intelligence. The souring relations hit a low at the end of 2014 when US military training of Nigerian forces was abruptly halted. This however is changing under Buhari’s administration, whose crackdown on corruption has led to a raft of charges against top national security officials in the previous government. Many of the funds alleged to have been misused and siphoned off by corrupt Nigerian officials under Jonathan’s government were earmarked for the fight against Boko Haram, which ahs killed thousands in northeastern Nigeria and neighboring countries over the last seven years and which pledged loyalty to the so-called Islamic State (IS) group last year. The accused officials include Nigeria’s former chief of defense staff, who last month pleaded not guilty to using money allocated for Nigeria’s air force to purchase a mansion and a commercial plot of land and to build a shopping centre. A second US official has disclosed that “Buhari made clear from the get-go that his number one priority was reforming the military to defeat Boko Haram…And he sees us as part of that solution.” However officials have noted that serious human rights abuses committed by security forces, which include police, increased in 2015, according go the US State Department’s annual human rights reports.
The US Congress has not yet been formally notified of the possible US approval of the sale of Embraer’s A29 Super Tucano turboprop aircraft to Nigeria. The Tucanos can be used for training, surveillance or attack and can be armed with two wing-mounted machine guns and can carry up to 1,550 kg (3,417 pounds) of weapons. One production line for the Super Tucano is located in Florida, where it is built with US firm Sierra Nevada Corp. According to one of the US officials, the aircraft that would be sold to Nigeria come with a “very basic armed configuration.” The sale of the aircraft could offer Nigeria a more maneuverable aircraft that can stay aloft for extended periods to target Boko Haram formations. While officials have not disclosed the cost of the planes to be sold to Nigeria, a contract for twenty similar aircraft, which was sold to Afghanistan, was valued at about US $428 million at the time that it was announced in 2013.
African armies routed Boko Haram from much of its self-proclaimed caliphate in northeastern Nigeria last year. However its fighters have since regrouped and have intensified their attacks in the Lake Chad Basin region, threatening regional security despite the creation of a 9,000-strong African multinational force to counter it. One US official has indicated that the US military expects to train a second Nigerian infantry battalion once the current group completes its training later this year. While US officials have not specified what type of additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets would be provided to bolster the regional fight against Boko Haram, they have acknowledged that they have a tough task combating the group, which is sending women and children strapped with explosives to blow up civilian targets, such as bus stops and market places.
According to police officials, two blasts rocked the central Nigerian city of Jos on Sunday, in what is the latest unrest to occur in the region. Emergency services reported Monday that at least 44 people were killed in the twin bomb blasts, which comes after a wave of mass casualty attacks blamed on Boko Haram.
Plateau state police spokesman Abuh Emmanuel confirmed “…that there were two explosions in Jos this evening. One happened at the Bauchi motor park and the other at Yantaya, near the mosque.” He further indicated that he could not immediately state if there were any causalities, adding that police officers have been sent to the scene. On Monday, Mohammed Abdulsalam, from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) disclosed that “at the moment we have 44 dead bodies and 47 others injured from the scenes of the two attacks.”
Witnesses have reported that the first explosion went off around 9:14 PM (2014 GMT) at Bauchi road shopping complex, which is located near the Bauchi motor park and the University of Jos. It targeted the packed Shagalinku restaurant located in the shopping complex, which is popular with travellers from the northeast. One witnesses disclosed that the second explosion was heard four minutes later, adding that it occurred close to the popular Yantaya Mosque. The witness reported that a van and several other vehicles were seen transporting some of the dead and injured to the local hospital. Another witnesses, who was at the Yantaya mosque for the “Tafsir,” or Koran commentary session, reported that a number of attackers opened fire from outside at about 9:20 PM (2020 GMT), adding “they fired an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) at the mosque but it hit a metal bar on the facade and exploded…Many people were killed and injured from the shooting and the explosion.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday’s bomb attacks in Jos, which is the capital of Plateau state. Boko Haram however has repeatedly attacked the city in the past. In February, at least seventeen people were killed when a twin blast hit a bus park in the city.
Sunday night’s twin blasts come just hours after a suicide attack on a church in the northeastern city of Potiskum on Sunday, which left five people dead, including the pastor, a woman and two children.
According to an unofficial count, Sunday’s bombings took the death toll from raids, explosions and suicide attacks to 267 this month along, and to 524 since Muhammadu Buhari became president on 29 May. While President Buhari has repeatedly vowed that he will crush the militant’s six-year insurgency, the rising death toll, coupled with increasing attacks and the military being unable to prevent them, the president is now under growing pressure to react quickly.
As President Muhammadu Buhari marked his first week in office, the death toll from two blasts in northeastern Nigeria climbed to 35 on Friday, raising the total number killed in suspected Boko Haram attacks to 82.
This week’s violence comes as President Buhari embarked on his first foreign trip since taking office, visiting neighbouring Chad and Niger, which along with Cameroon, are Nigeria’s key allies in the battle against Boko Haram’s on going uprising. During his trip, Buhari urged closer regional security cooperation, while thanking troops from Nigeria’s neighbours for their efforts to date. The newly elected Nigerian president has vowed to crush the militant group, however last weeks spate of bombings has highlighted the severity of the challenge.
Two blasts rocked northeastern Nigeria on Thursday, killing at least six people, just hours before President Muhammadu Buhari urged closer regional cooperation to defeat Boko Haram. According to officials, the first explosion occurred in the Borno state capital Maiduguri, which has been hit by a spate of bombings in recent days. The incident occurred when a truck carrying firewood rammed into a checkpoint outside a military barracks. Police and locals have reported that at least four soldiers were killed in this explosion, which one resident called a “suicide attack.” The second blast occurred at a busy market in Yola, the capital of neighbouring Adamawa state. At least two people were killed in the second incident and some 30 others were injured. While there was no claim of responsibility, both incidents will likely be blamed on Boko Haram. Just hours before these latest attacks, President Buhari arrived in Chad’s capital N’Djamena, for talks with his counterpart Idriss Deby on tackling Boko Haram. According to a statement from the office of the Chadian President, Deby has “reaffirmed Chad’s involvement and availability” to work with Nigeria.
At least eleven people were killed Wednesday in an explosion in Maiduguri. According to Danlami Ajaokuta, a civilian vigilante assisting that military against Boko Haram in the Baga Road area, “we have so far recovered six dead bodies. We are still working at the scene, so the casualties may rise.” Ajaokuta indicated that the blast, which occurred at 5:30 PM (1630 GMT), happened at a garage opposite a military unit and it appeared to have been caused by explosives that were left nearby. Since last Friday, Maiduguri, which has been a regular target for Boko Haram Islamists, has been hit four times.
On Tuesday, suspected Boko Haram militants launched a renewed attack on Maiduguri, just days after the military repelled an assault on the key city. At least thirteen people were killed Tuesday in a suicide attack at a busy cattle market in the northeastern city of Maiduguri. According to Red Cross officials and locals, the blast in the Borno state capital occurred at around 1:00PM (1200 GMT) as traders were wrapping up business for the day. The northeast spokesman of the Nigerian Red Cross, Umar Sadiq, indicated that there were 13 dead and 24 injured who were taken to two city hospitals for treatment. While there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest attack, it bore the hallmarks of the group, with one official indicated that the victims were “carefully targeted,” adding “the bomber chose the most crowded part of the market and set off his bombs.” The attack came after Boko Haram militants again targeted Maiduguri with rocket-propelled grenades in the early hours of Tuesday after hitting the city in a similar attack on Saturday. Residents reported that the militants arrived in the Moronti area of the city by river during the early hours of Tuesday however they were unable to advance further because of wide ditches and embankments that were dug by soldiers around the city limits. According to locals, the militants then began shelling Ajillari Cross, which is located about three kilometres (2 miles) away. One local stated, “we were bombarded by RPG’s (rocket-propelled grenades) by Boko Haram from Moronti…We all left our homes for fear of being hit inside. It was dark so we could see the trajectory of the RPG’s, which were red with heat… Soon afterwards, we saw troops in trucks moving towards Moronti and then a fighter jet also deployed not long afterwards.”
On Monday, a spokesman for President Muhammadu Buhari announced that the newly elected president will this week make his first foreign trip since taking office.
Newly elected President Buhari is due to travel to neighboring Niger on Wednesday and to Chad on Thursday. Niger shares a border with Borno and Yobe states while Chad borders Borno state in Nigeria’s extreme northeast. According to Shehu Garba, the two-day trip will focus on “maters of security,” with the cooperation of Nigeria’s neighbors seen as being critical to ending the militant uprising, which since 2009 has claimed more than 15,000 lives.
President Buhari was sworn in last Friday and during his inaugural speech, he vowed to crush the insurgent group, which he described as “mindless” and “godless.” Despite this vow, Boko Haram carried out an attack some twelve hours after the new president took the oath of office, targeting homes in the key northeastern city of Maiduguri. Overnight on Saturday, the militants stormed the city, launching rocket-propelled grenades. Later, a suicide attack at a mosque in the city, which is the Borno state capital, killed at least twenty-six people and injured dozens others. On Sunday, the militants raided two towns in Borno’s neighboring state of Yobe, where they torched public buildings and looted food and fuel stores.
While former president Goodluck Jonathan’s administration had previously complained that Nigeria’s neighbors were not doing enough in order to contain Boko Haram, as in some instances, the militants were able to flee military pursuit by crossing porous borders, a four-nation offensive launched in February, and which includes troops from Cameroon, has won significant victories, however there are growing fears that Boko Haram may be regrouping, particularly in the remote border areas which are difficult to patrol. In turn, both Chad and Niger have complained of a lack of cooperation from Nigeria, which has strained relations with all its neighbors. Chadian troops have also had to retake some towns from Boko Haram several times as Nigerian troops haven’t arrived in order to secure them.