Jonathan says Boko Haram will be history in 4 weeks

Jonathan says Boko Haram will be history in 4 weeks

Friday, March 20, 2015 3:35 pm

*But experts caution against premature declaration of victory

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan said in an interview broadcast on Friday that he hoped that Boko Haram militants would be pushed out of captured towns and villages within a month.

“I’m very hopeful that it will not take us more than a month to recover the old territories that hitherto have been in their hands,” he told the BBC.

Jonathan checks on troops in Mubi

Jonathan checks on troops in Mubi

Nigeria’s military has had a remarkable transformation, claiming to have recaptured dozens of communities from the Islamists in the restive northeast since early February.

Ill-equipped soldiers had previously appeared unable — even unwilling — to respond to attacks by the heavily armed rebels, whose insurgency began in 2009 and has killed more than 13,000.

The military, backed by soldiers from Chad, Cameroon and Niger as well as foreign private military contractors, claim to have “cleared” the northeast states of Yobe and Adawama of insurgents.

Borno state, which has been worst affected by the insurgency, is expected to be liberated “soon”, they have said.

In the interview, Jonathan, who is seeking re-election at polls on March 28, said Boko Haram were “getting weaker and weaker every day”.

He blamed the military’s inability to put down the rebellion previously to a lack of weapons and resources, which have now come through.

Military and political rhetoric from Abuja suggests that victory over Boko Haram could be declared soon but security analysts have warned that this could be premature.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Boko Haram fighters demonstrated that they were still able to mount hit-and-run attacks, storming the border town of Gamboru and killing 11 civilians.

Boko Haram child soldiers learning to aim guns

Boko Haram child soldiers learning to aim guns

The town, in eastern Borno on the frontier with Cameroon, was previously recaptured by Chadian forces but they withdrew last week, leaving it without a security presence, residents said.

The lack of troops suggested a problem in co-ordination between the allies, with anglophone Nigeria having long been suspicious of its francophone neighbours and ties tense.

But experts warned against any premature declaration of victory, with the militants still proving capable of carrying out deadly hit-and-run strikes and indications of coalition lapses.

Mark Schroeder, vice-president for Africa analysis at security risk consultants Stratfor, said announcing victory before March 28 made political sense for Jonathan as part of the election campaign.

“The risk he runs, however, is that the insurgency is not really defeated, only disrupted temporarily and for political posturing,” he told AFP.

“It would be akin to the ‘Mission Accomplished’ declaration by (US) President (George W.) Bush in 2003 that was a premature symbol of victory in Iraq.

“Clearly, Iraq is still today struggling with an Islamist insurgency.”

A foreign mercenary in an APC on the streets of Maiduguri

A foreign mercenary in an APC on the streets of Maiduguri

Nnamdi Obasi, senior Nigeria researcher at the International Crisis Group, attributed the sense of urgency to the prospect of defeat by Buhari.

“That urgency facilitated the delivery and deployment of new military hardware, including assets more relevant to counter-insurgency operations,” he said.

Improvement had been seen in command and deployment structures, including the use of senior officers to lead combat operations, special forces and co-operation with local vigilantes.

The involvement of foreign military contractors, many of them South Africans, to provide technical expertise may also have made a difference, he said.

“Offensives by the military forces of neighbouring countries have helped to overstretch the insurgents and thus undermine their ability to withstand Nigerian military offensives,” he added.

The Nigeria Security Network of analysts on Thursday meanwhile warned that Boko Haram would revert to its guerrilla campaign of bombings and suicide attacks in the face of military pressure.

In the short-term shattered lives and infrastructure needed to be rebuilt, while longer term, Nigeria needs to tackle the root causes of the insurgency to prevent it flaring again, experts said.

The Borno Elders Forum on Wednesday warned that it was “too early to even start talking about any of the (1.5 million) displaced going back to any of these reclaimed territories”.

The forum’s chairman, Usman Gaji Galtimari said many areas appear to have been mined, while there have still been repeated attacks in areas said to have been recaptured.

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