Thursday, February 19, 2015 7:38 pm
Nigeria’s security chiefs may have unilaterally decided an unrealistic time framework to subdue Boko Haram terrorists, when they said they needed six weeks to accomplish the task, beginning 14 February.
Although the country’s armed forces in league with neighbouring armies of Niger, Cameroon and Chad have since stepped up the war against the insurgents, bombarding camps inside Nigeria, the real ground-and-air offensive is not scheduled to begin until end of March, when the regional force will become operational.
Nigeria’s rescheduled presidential election will also take place on 28 March, with the likelihood that the swathes of territory Boko Haram has been holding will not have been reclaimed. Security problems, a reason given for the postponement of the February elections will likely become an issue again, especially in the North east of Nigeria.
A senior Niger military officer disclosed today in an interview with Reuters in Ndjamena, Chad that the shape of the regional force Nigeria is relying upon to flush out the insurgents is yet to be concluded.
Military chiefs of Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Benin and Niger will meet in the Chadian capital N’Djamena next week to finalise strategy for the 8,700-strong task-force of regional troops, said Colonel Mahamane Laminou Sani, director of documentation and military intelligence of Niger’s armed forces.
“All we are doing right now is stopping Boko Haram from entering Niger: if they attack our positions we push them back a certain distance and Nigeria pushes from the other side to contain the situation,” he said, on the sidelines of the annual U.S.-sponsored ‘Flintlock’ counter-terrorism exercises in Chad.
“There are initiatives by our countries to make sure Boko Haram doesn’t get out of control, but we have a deadline of end-March to put the joint force into practice,” he told Reuters late on Wednesday.
Highlighting the cross-border threat, militants attacked Niger overnight, killing three before they were driven back.
The force’s first commander will be a Nigerian and the position will then rotate annually among members, Sani said.
The implementation of the force has been delayed by tensions between Nigeria and Cameroon over the right to pursue militants across the border into each other’s countries, sources said.
Niger and Chad already have agreements in place covering that with each other and with Nigeria. Nigeria and Cameroon will be under pressure to iron out their differences.
“This should be the last meeting, I think. We don’t have any choice,” Sani said. “If we don’t go to find Boko Haram, they are going to come and find us.”
US INTEL SUPPORT
Niger’s military has carried out air strikes against Boko Haram positions and used ground forces to mop up the survivors, Sani said.
Sahelien.com, a regional news website, reported raids by Niger’s troops who entered the Nigerian town of Marara on Feb. 15 and air strikes on Damasak on Feb. 16. A security source said the reports were accurate but gave no further details.
Sani denied the Niger air force was responsible for an attack on Tuesday that killed at least 36 civilians at a funeral in the border village of Abadam.
A local mayor said he believed a Nigerian military plane was responsible. Nigeria has denied this and Niger has said it is investigating.
Air power will play a key role but ground troops will then used to neutralise survivors in the wooded and mountainous terrain occupied by the Sunni jihadist group, Sani said
“Information on their location needs to come from human sources first, then you send technological resources to check it, and you maintain observation on them until air strikes arrive,” he said.
Asked whether the U.S. military could help with drone intelligence on fighters’ movements, he said: “That is already a reality. They help us in that sense.”
“This is no longer a issue of national security for Nigeria, it’s a question of regional and international security,” he said. “If Nigeria implodes then the whole of Africa will feel it.”
Boko Haram is said to have between 4,000-6,000 fighters, according to US intelligence report. The insurgents themselves estimate their forces at 30,000. Subduing them, in the view of military analysts, may not be as easy as ending a six-week affair.