News items today seems to highlight a certain importance of military aviation in current operations across the continent. Boko Haram militants attacked an airbase in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state in Nigeria’s north today, along with other targets. The attack on the airbase was described as large-scale and coordinated, and let to the damage or destruction of two helicopters and three military fixed-wing aircraft. Nigeria’s Ministry of Defence spokesman Brigadier General Chris Olukolade said that the fixed-wing aircraft were decommissioned, and that the two helicopters were “incapacitated.” It is unclear what this might mean in terms of the severity of the damage or whether the aircraft were total losses.
Borno state has been one of the primary hot-spots in Nigeria’s campaign against Boko Haram militants. In may a state of emergency was declared in Borno, and twenty-four hour curfew has been put in place following today’s attacks. The attack on the airbase is in many ways unsurprising. In May, the following the increase in violence in places like Borno, the Nigerian military began launching airstrikes against Boko Haram camps. This was said by observers at the time to represent a significant escalation in the government response. As recently as the end of last month, Nigeria had again launched air strikes against Boko Haram. Striking back at this capability would no doubt have been a key priority for the militant group. Boko Haram, along with a splinter group called Ansaru, were designated as foreign terrorist organizations by the United States in November.
Also, it was reported today that a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, would be heading to the Democratic Republic of Congo this week to begin operations. The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) will receive five drones of an unspecified type. United Nations peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous has described the additions as an “essential tool” for the mission. The utility of drones in peacekeeping operations has been a matter for debate, especially as other elements of the UN seek to develop an international position that may place limits on elements of what has been described as “robotic warfare.” It is felt, however, that in DRC, the drones would provide peacekeepers with additional tools to monitor movements by the country’s various rebel groups and more rapidly respond to protect civilian populations under threat. The drones have been describe as “protection technology” by the United Nations.
The issue of protecting civilians especially important with regards to DRC, as UN forces had been criticized for their lack of intervention on behalf of civilians threatened by fighting related to the M23 group at the end of last year and earlier this year. The UN responded by stepping up patrols and ultimately activated an “intervention brigade” to carry out mobile operations. This force was said to be in no small way responsible for the decision by the M23 leadership to surrender or flee the country at the beginning of November. The deal that was to end the fighting between the government and M23 remains delayed indefinitely, though DRC President Joseph Kabila has flown to Uganda today in hopes of reviving the negotiations. The status and fate of M23 militants and their leadership remains the most significant impediment to a final agreement. In addition, a large number of other anti-government militant groups remain active in DRC, most notably the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FLDR) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). A plethora of other smaller, localized groups also exist, broadly categorized as “Mai Mai.”