Tag Archives: Nigeria

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.

AFRICOM’s Obangame Express Exercise Starts Up in the Gulf of Guinea

This year’s Obangame Express maritime exercise, led by US Naval Forces Africa (NAVFORAF), began on April 16th in the Gulf of Guniea. This year’s exercise is taking place off the coasts of Cameroon and Nigeria. As with the other Express series exercises, Obangame Express will consist of an in-port preparatory phase, followed by an at-sea exercise to test the participants maritime security skills. This year, 31 ships from Angola, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, The Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome & Principe, Spain, Togo, Turkey and the United States will participate in the exercise. The majority of these ships will operate from the Port of Lagos. This includes the USNS Spearhead (JHSV-1), which is the first of its class and on its maiden voyage.

USNS Spearhead (JHSV-1) maneuvers alongside the pier in Lagos, Nigeria on 13 April 2014. Spearhead was in Nigeria for Obangame Express 2014.

USNS Spearhead (JHSV-1) maneuvers alongside the pier in Lagos, Nigeria on 13 April 2014. Spearhead arrived in Nigeria to participate in Obangame Express 2014. The ship was on its maiden voyage in the region as part of the Africa Partnership Station mission.

Obangame Express 2014 will test maritime security skills such as: VBSS (visit, board, search and seizure), medical response, radio communication, and information sharing across regional maritime operations centers (MOCs). According to the US Navy, Participants will execute tactics and techniques within scenarios that mirror real world counter-piracy and counter-illicit trafficking operations.

Obangame Express, which began in 2011, is currently one of four so-called “Express series” exercise in Africa run annually by NAVFORAF.  “Obangame” means “togetherness” in a local Cameroonian language. These exercise focus on maritime security issues around the continent and look to build on other bilateral security cooperation events between the US and African nations. Most notably, the Express series exercises are intended to support existing US Navy security cooperation efforts as part of the Africa Partnership Station program. Obangame Express is also especially concerned with the issue of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. With the decline in piracy off the coast of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, more attention has been focused on the matter of piracy in West Africa.

The plans for this year’s exercise were finalized back in February. The US Navy said the objective was to mirror the positive results of the 2013 exercise, tailoring scenarios closely to real-world maritime security challenges. This year’s exercise involves almost three times as many ships from more than twice as many countries when compared to Obangame Express 2013.

Boko Haram Attacks on the Rise

Gunmen believed to be from the militant group Boko Haram reportedly killed three in the village of Izghe in Nigeria’s Borno state, and burned the village to the ground. This comes only a week after an attack on the village, again believed to have been perpetrated by Boko Haram militants, left over a hundred dead and numerous structures demolished.  The attack on Izghe is also the second in as many months where Boko Haram militants have been accused of completely wiping out a village in Borno state.

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. One can clearly see that the country’s northeast has been at the center of the violence.

Borno state and the northeast of Nigeria broadly have seen the bulk of the fighting with the Islamist Boko Haram and their splinter factions after the group turned to violence in 2009. Officials in Borno state have accused the country’s central government of failing to treat the insurgency as a serious threat. President Goodluck Jonathan did declare a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states last year, which was followed by a surge of violence as the country’s security forces attempted to deal a decisive blow to Islamist fighters.

However, the campaign appears to have stalled out. In January, President Jonathan reshuffled the country’s defense leadership. The sacking of the Chief of the Defense Staff and numerous service chiefs was seen as being linked to the failure to stem the Boko Haram violence. It was also announced that Nigerian would establish a Nigerian Army Special Operations Command (NASOC), which would have countering internal threats like Boko Haram among its missions. The US is said to be helping with this effort and has a history of cooperation with the country’s military. Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday that the US remains “a committed partner of the Government of Nigeria” in the face of the recent violence.

Little has come of this so far. Last week, Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau made the bold threat that his group was planning to attack oil interests and leadership figures, both official and in communities, who opposed his demands. The country’s oil interests are located in the Niger River Delta region, effectively at the opposite end of the country from Boko Haram’s current stronghold.

Izghe is also near the border with Cameroon, further evidence that the problem may be affecting Nigeria’s neighbors. Cameroon has found itself wedged between a number of crises, without necessarily having the resources to tackle the spillover. Security forces in Cameroon have been working to stop arms trafficking that may be supporting the Nigerian insurgency. The porous border remains a problem, however, and the Nigerian government announced yesterday that it was sealing its border with Cameroon to prevent fighters from fleeing there. It remains to be seen if either country has the resources necessary to enforce this closure.

Boko Haram Attacks Village in Nigeria

Yesterday, militants believed to belong to the Boko Haram extremist group attacked Kawuri village in northeastern Nigeria’s Borno state.  Fifty-two people were killed.  In addition, three hundred buildings were destroyed, constituting the bulk of the village’s dwellings.  Militants also placed improvised explosive devices that were triggered today as security forces began to try and account for the dead.  Another attack, in Waga Chakawa village in Adamawa state, was also reported today.

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 attacks comes as Nigeria continues to step up its campaign against Boko Haram and other Islamist militant groups, which may have become regional franchises of the Al Qaeda terrorist organization.  Nigeria established what it called the Joint Task Force in 2011 in response to increasing violence from the Boko Haram group.  The fight against the group and other Islamists has since expanded into a larger campaign involving things like air strikes.  However, the Joint Task Force has been accused of human rights violations during these operations and the government may not be entirely pleased itself with the results of the campaign.  Two weeks ago, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan reshuffled the leadership of the country’s defense forces, appointing a new Chief of the Defense Staff, as well as new chief of staffs for the Army, Navy, and Air Force.  Operations against Boko Haram have been characterized largely by escalating violence, and little else, as the group expands its attacks outside of the country, including into neighboring Cameroon.

This was followed by reports last week that the country had established the Nigerian Army Special Operations Command (NASOC), with US assistance, indicating that the military may be increasingly looking to take over internal counter-terrorism efforts.  It is likely that NASOC would not only be concerned with Boko Haram and its splinter factions in the country’s restive north, but also the festering insurgency being conducted by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).  MEND just today claimed responsibility for an attack on a patrol boat on a waterway in Bayelsa state.  However, the finer points of any new strategy to be conducted by NASOC, or other elements of Nigeria’s security forces, remain vague.  NASOC’s will also require the creation of new units to carry out its mission, further delaying the implementation, at least on their part, of a new effort.  It may be some time in the end before there is any hint of a change in Nigeria’s internal security campaign.

Cameroon Finds Itself Caught Up in Regional Violence

On December 31st, French citizen Georges Vandenbeusch, a Catholic priest working in northern Cameroon who was kidnapped last year by Boko Haram, was freed.  As with other releases of French hostages in Africa in 2013, the details of his release are sparse and it is believed that a ransom was paid.  Following his release, Vandenbeusch was flown from the town of Maroua in the north to the country’s capital, Yaounde by a Cameroonian military aircraft.  He had been held in captivity for approximately seven weeks.

Map of Cameroon

Map of Cameroon

This is not the first time Boko Haram, a Nigerian Islamist militant group recently declared a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States, has kidnapped French citizens in Cameroon.  In February 2013, seven French citizens were abducted in the northern part of the country.  They were later released.  French authorities said the Boko Haram threat had led them to urge Vandenbeusch to leave the area, but that he had declined.  Boko Haram rebels have sought refuge in the country as the Nigerian government continues to step up its campaign against the group.  Most recently, Nigerian forces reportedly killed over fifty Boko Haram militants in a combined air and ground attack.  Cameroon has also deployed its elite Rapid Intervention Battalion to the country’s north to try and fight the infiltration.

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.

In addition, elements nominally loyal to former Central African Republic Francois Bozize, deposed by Seleka rebels last March, have reportedly attempted to establish a base area in Cameroon.  Bozize had fled to Cameroon initially following his ouster.  These forces were reportedly responsible for an attack in the border town of Biti in November and Cameroonian authorities have engaged in numerous border skirmishes with armed individuals coming from CAR since formally closing the border in August.  However, as French and AU forces in CAR put pressure on former Seleka rebels as part of UN-backed peacekeeping effort there, they too have begun to flee into Cameroon.  Cameroonian forces, again from the country’s Rapid Intervention Battalion, recently arrested a number of former Seleka rebels who had taken over a gold mine in the northern part of the country.

Though Cameroon’s geography is likely the predominant reason it has seen spillover from these other conflicts and crises its close relationship with France is no doubt also a factor.  The French military conducted significant interventions in Mali and CAR in 2013, which have continued into the New Year.  French forces are deployed to Cameroon and used it as a launching platform for Operation Sangaris, the intervention in CAR.  The French military also expressed an interest at the end of last year in being able to conduct counter-terrorism operations more broadly.  It is likely that Cameroon will continue to feel the effects of regional insecurity for some time to come.  It remains to be seen how the country’s institutions will weather these crises.

Spotlight on Military Aviation in Africa

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.

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.  Maiduguri can be seen marked in the northeast corner of the country, partially obscured by a graphic indicating “31+ attacks,” the high attack density marked on the map.

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.

Map of the Democratic Republic of Congo showing the approximate zone of conflict.  The city of Goma has historically been a major point of contention and one can see the tri-border region with Uganda and Rwanda.

Map of the Democratic Republic of Congo showing the approximate zone of conflict. The city of Goma has historically been a major point of contention and one can see the tri-border region with Uganda and Rwanda.

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.”

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.