Tag Archives: Ansaru

US Steps Up Support to Nigeria to Fight Boko Haram

The US has stepped up its support to the government of Nigeria this week. The driving factor has been the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls by the nebulous Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram, which has been waging a brutal campaign against the central government since 2009. This week President Obama dispatched an inter-agency team to Nigeria to help in efforts to locate and rescue the abductees. The sixty individuals in the team were reportedly from the US military, agencies of the Intelligence Community, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

US and Nigerian military personnel at the Kontagora Grandstand and Impact/Maneuver Area at the Nigerian Army Training Center

US and Nigerian military personnel at the Kontagora Grandstand and Impact/Maneuver Area at the Nigerian Army Training Center

On Friday, US Army Africa (USARAF) announced that the military members of the team would be working with personnel already at the US embassy in Abuja to train a battalion of Nigerian Army Rangers. USARAF said this would be the first time it would train Nigerian troops for “decisive action” against “a real threat.” The US has a long history of working with the Nigerian military, but this has generally been related to peacekeeping operations. You can read more about this in my recent piece on the announcement on War is Boring.

The twelve Army personnel, said to be a combination of Army Special Forces and Army National Guard general purpose forces, would run a recently formed 650-man Nigerian Army Ranger Battalion through a training course modeled on the US Army Ranger Course. No details were given as to which units the trainers would come from, but 3rd and 10th Special Forces Groups have an established history of conducting security assistance and foreign internal defense efforts in Africa. The California Army National Guard is also aligned with Nigeria through the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program. Military personnel are apparently already in Nigeria conducting military-to-military engagements to figure out what the existing capabilities of the Nigerian troops actually are.

View of the Nigerian Army Training Center Headquarters

View of the Nigerian Army Training Center Headquarters

The actual training is scheduled to begin in two weeks at the Nigerian Army Training Center (NATRAC). The Nigerian government is reportedly footing the entire $400,000 bill for the event and that amount was decided on by them in the first place. The Nigerian Army had first requested the advanced infantry training assistance after touring the US Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia last fall. USARAF then worked with them to figure out how much training could be done for that amount. There is also no indication that any of those funds will be used to rehabilitate any part of NATRAC. USARAF released a set of undated and less than flattering pictures of NATRAC facilities to go along with their announcement, some of which are reproduced below:

Training Barracks Tents at the Nigerian Army Training Center

Training Barracks Tents at the Nigerian Army Training Center

Kontagora Village Training Site at the Nigerian Army Training Center

Kontagora Village Training Site at the Nigerian Army Training Center

Obstacle course at the Nigerian Army Training Center

Obstacle course at the Nigerian Army Training Center

Kontagora Small Arms Range at the Nigerian Army Training Center

Kontagora Small Arms Range at the Nigerian Army Training Center

This training event is also just one part of expanding US assistance to the Nigerian military to combat Boko Haram. In January, the Nigerian government established the Nigerian Army Special Operations Command with American assistance. The US is also reportedly in talks with the Nigerian government about providing intelligence aircraft support. This could potentially involve manned and unmanned aircraft.

The US government only declared Boko Haram a terrorist group last November. It also applied that designation the splinter faction Ansaru at that time. There has been some controversy recently over why it took years of escalating violence for the Department of State to make this decision. Whatever the case was, the US appears to be paying attention now.

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Another French Hostage in Africa Freed

And again the details remain sparse and at times conflicting.  Francis Collomp, an engineer with the French company Vergnet, was abducted on December 19th, 2012, from a compound in the Nigerian town of Rimi, near the border with Niger.  Ansaru, said to be a splinter faction of Nigeria’s larger militant group Boko Haram, subsequently said it had taken Collomp hostage over France’s intervention in Mali and its domestic policies regarding the practice of hijab, the veiling of women.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing the approximate areas and density of Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria in 2012.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing the approximate areas and density of Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria in 2012.

The Reuters report said that a source had informed them that Collomp had escaped his captors, but that this had been denied by the French Foreign Ministry.  On October 29th, four French hostages that had been taken by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) were released amid reports that a ransom had been paid.  Collomp’s freedom also comes within days of the US decision to designate both Boko Haram and Ansaru as Foreign Terrorist Organizations and France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius saying that there was evidence that Boko Haram and Ansaru had cooperated with AQIM.  AQIM has operated in Niger along the border with Nigeria among other places in northwest Africa.

In addition, on Friday, Nigerian forces reportedly launched a raid against Boko Haram in Bita, near the Cameroonian border, which it said was being used as a staging area for militant attacks in the region.  On the same day, Nigerian forces were also reportedly engaged in a firefight with Boko Haram south of Maiduguri in the country’s northeast, said to be a stronghold for the ground.  A Nigerian military spokesman said that twenty-nine Boko Haram militants were killing in the two operations, but there was no independent confirmation of the events.

UPDATE: Despite the denial from the French Foreign Ministry, VOA has reported that Nigeria’s Kaduna State Police Commissioner Olufemi Adenaike confirmed the report that Collomp had managed to escape his captors.

US Designates Two Nigerian Groups as Foreign Terrorist Organizations

Reported to be in the offing this morning, the US Department of state has issued a formal media note that Boko Haram and Ansaru, both in Nigeria, have been designated as foreign terrorist organizations (FTO). The media note describes Boko Haram as “a Nigeria-based militant group with links to al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) that is responsible for thousands of deaths in northeast and central Nigeria over the last several years including targeted killings of civilians” and Ansaru as “a Boko Haram splinter faction that earlier in 2013 kidnapped and executed seven international construction workers.”

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing the approximate areas and density of Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria in 2012.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing the approximate areas and density of Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria in 2012.

When a group is designated as an FTO by the US government this includes a prohibition against knowingly providing, or attempting or conspiring to provide, material support or resources to, or engaging in transactions with the group so designated, as well as a freezing of all property and interests in property of those organizations that are in the United States, or come within the United States, or the control of US persons.  The US Department of Justice and Department of Treasury assist in the enforcement of these actions.  The US military has also been involved in work to build and expand the Nigerian military’s capabilities.

The media note also specifically points out that this action by the US is only “one tool” in policy that the Nigerian government must pursue, which the US believes should be conducted through “a combination of law enforcement, political, and development efforts, as well as military engagement.”  Boko Haram is a radical islamist group in Nigeria that takes its name from its desire to ban western influence in education (the group’s name translates roughly to “books are forbidden”). In 2009, the group began a campaign of violence against a wide variety of targets from government institutions and schools to Christian churches to banks and markets.

The Nigerian authorities subsequently formed a specialized para-military unit to counter the group, called the Joint Task Force, which incorporated elements from the country’s law enforcement community and military.  The Joint Task Force has since been accused of various rights violations in its campaign against Boko Haram.  In May, the Nigerian military launched air strikes against Boko Haram camps in the north of the country, which was seen as a not insignificant escalation in the campaign.