Major General I Attahiru is the new Chief of Army Staff, just appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari. In 2017, he took over the Command of Operation Lafiya Dole from General Leo Irabor, now Chief of Defence Staff.
It was in his (Attahiru’s) capacity as the helmsman at the command, with headquarters at Maimalari Cantonment, Maiduguri, Borno State that he granted TheNEWS this interview, posted on this website on 11 July 2017 and republished below:
We Will Bring Quick, Final End to Boko Haram-Attahiru
Major General I Attahiru who replaces Major General Leo Irabor as the helmsman at Operation Lafiya Dole reveals to TheNEWS what he intends to do to consolidate on the achievements of his predecessor.
Congratulations on your new appointment and for the successes in your previous tour of duty. But what is the new thing you will be bringing in as the commander of the war against Boko Haram now?
You must know that so much has been done in the Theatre. And based on my experience of previous combat operations, I intend to re-jig the force here and ensure that they are more robust. The bottom now is that want to make the operation more offensive in order to create decisive conditions for quick and final end to the counter insurgency operations in the North East.
But do you have the resources, especially in terms equipment for this now?
Of course, when we talk of re-jigging of course, our emphasis would be on training, reorientation and indeed, the Chief of Army Staff has talked about bringing in a whole lot of hardware in here. Some, we have started receiving, much more will come in. So, it is the cumulative of all that. We are sure that with the kind of retraining we are going to give to the force, the reorientation, they are going to be more offensive because of the concept of the operations we are bringing up will envisage this aspect.
How do you intend to tackle the challenge of the Lake Chad region where it is believed that remnants of Boko Haram are holed up and that it was even from there that they were sending some of these suicide bombers?
We have a close cooperation with the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), they are operating on the other side of the border and encompasses the four countries around here –Niger, Cameroon, Chad and then, Nigeria inclusive of Benin. Then, on the Nigerian side, we have a Brigade that is operating on the side of the MNJTF. And of course, a lot of our troops are also part of MNJTF. So, we are doing is a close liaison activities- operationally, we have a whole lot of liaison, a lot of junction points where we exchanged information and activities. The MNJTF Commander is a Nigerian and that tells you that there is a lot of cooperation. We conduct cross border operations; they have the right to come to this side in pursuit of insurgents and terrorists. We also have the same right to go to the other side based on agreements entered into by the countries and the Lake Chad Basin Commission.
As a former commander of 82 Division, you know very well that Boko Haram operates now by what can best be described as a hit and run tactics. Now, that you are the overall commander overseeing the war against Boko Haram, how are you going to tackle this challenge?
By the tactics of it, you can see that when I was in 82 Division, there could be a change in the tactics of operation compared to here. There, you are dealing with oil theft, cultists, herdsmen/farmers conflict and so on. Here, the main threat is the issue of Boko Haram. The concept of operations that you have said all encompasses these and when it plays out, you will have opportunity to see that it is quite offensive in nature and the forces will be quite robust in its application.
How would you make use of the Civilian JTF, don’t you think it is necessary for them to get more training?
Well, the Civilian JTF is essentially an ally in the fight against in the counter insurgency fight. We have given them very basic training as it were. And I think that is enough for the essence which they are going to play in the counter insurgency effort. If we go beyond that, we would now be trying to turn them into military forces. They are performing to out satisfactions. Basically, they are protecting rural areas, supply route protections, supply of intelligence – because it is war among the people, so we require their own people to work with us closely. That is basically what counter- insurgency is all about. And like you said, the aspect of the mobile concept takes care of villages and crannies- the idea is to have us everywhere. We have mobile forces operating, camping out, and undertaking robust controls in the nooks and crannies of the entire Northeast. So, that provides security and safety for the populace and indeed, the entire environment.
Will the Army also be involved in tackling the problem of indoctrination…
If you look at counterinsurgency, it has to do with the military being an aspect, political, environmental, social and so on. All these are being done and the military and as the Theatre Commander, I am here to coordinate. I have been having series of meetings with UN Agencies, other government agencies towards achieving this entire aim. Then, the military on its own in the construction efforts have been constructing bridges, clearing roads that were hitherto closed and the whole idea is to allow access for people who want to go and farm, those who want to go and carry out their business activities and so on. Because if you build a community based on this – if a man has what to use to earn income and takes care of his family, I don’t think terrorism is going to be attractive to him. The strategy here has not been exactly conventional in the real sense of it. It has been counterinsurgency strategy. Counterinsurgency strategies are those strategies for small wars. Intelligence gathering has been more than adequate so far, but it is also something that we have to rev up within this period. We know the people who will be tasked to get intelligence for us, that we have done and we will continue to do.
There have been questions about the leader of Boko Haram, Shekau during the time of your predecessors. There have been claims and counter claims that he has been killed only for him or somebody claiming to be him, as the military would say, to resurface. Are we going to get the question of Shekau behind us under your command? Are you going to capture him live and show him to Nigerians?
First, I think we must correct an anomaly here- the war does not begin and end with Shekau. He is just a factor in the entire process. So, too much emphasis on Shekau shouldn’t be the issue. But it is a matter of time that Shekau will be here. We will capture him.