The Nigerian version of the war against terror now requires a critical look at the impact of foreign forces as part of a reassessment of strategy aimed at achieving a timely and decisive victory that seems to be elusive. There are certainly other options worth exploring. The agitated questions and clueless answers that becloud appraisal of the perilous performance of the Nigerian military and security forces arise from internalizing the dynamics of our security challenges by turning a blind eye to the stark reality of external backing of Boko Haram and other terrorist groups linked to Al Qaeda, ISIS and ISIL. We have internal issues but they must not overshadow external factors.
Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, ISIS and ISIL are all notorious transnational mercenary forces currently rampaging through the Sahel Region, with a dubious and deadly track record as declared targets but covert tools in the US-led war against terror. They have been spearheading the decimation of populations and destruction of sovereign states, from Afghanistan to Iraq, Libya and Syria. The similarities in their pattern of calculated aggression, gruesome killings, rape and arson resulting in total destruction and mass displacement of communities is a chilling confirmation of their terror trademarks that we are all too fearfully familiar with.
The enlistment of Boko Haram into the transnational terror teams could in fact be a clandestine strategy as a forward operation base to facilitate an encirclement approach for unleashing the catastrophic cancer of imposed insurgencies and generalized insecurity on the targeted west and central African nations. What started as a local rebellion by a local sect led by a local cleric that was active in a few local governments and had to raid rural police stations to acquire obsolete rifles was rapidly transformed into the vicious affiliate of a transnational terrorist group!
Brandishing AK 47s in convoys of brand new Japanese pickups fitted with machine guns and hundreds of motorbikes, Boko Haram fighters began bombing civilians, seizing territories and waging a never ending bloody war against the Nigerian military. An insurgency against Nigeria is now virtually a continental war against several African nations with its epicentre in and around Nigeria.
African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the Lake Chad Basin Commission Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) Joint Force and an EU task force also in the Sahel led by France, known as Takuba, are all off-shoots of the war against terror. Mali’s military recently staged a dramatic coup that summarily terminated France’s neo-colonial defence “partnership” and pulled the country out of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) citing seven years of increasing instability with no end in sight.
Over and above these international deployments ostensibly mobilized to beef up the defensive capacity of the respective military and security forces of affected countries against the marauding terrorists, the US Africa Command, established to “counter transnational threats and malign actors, strengthen security forces, respond to crises and promote regional security, stability, and prosperity” towers with all the awesome arsenal of the world’s super power.
For the avoidance of any doubt, the Command declared on arrival that it “conducts military operations to disrupt, degrade and neutralize violent extremist organizations that present a transnational threat.” The Africa Command was established in 2007 and insists that for the past 14 years it has worked with African partners for a secure, stable and prosperous Africa! It claims to have provided defence equipment and services, military education and training, “to support the efforts of Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria in the fight against Boko Haram through the Lake Chad Basin Commission’s Multi-National Joint Task Force”.
It is a scandalous betrayal of these pompous declarations that the Sahel region in general and Nigeria in particular actually descended deeper into a destabilizing reign of violent extremist organizations in the 14 years the Command vowed to “disrupt, degrade and neutralize” them. Even without the combined clout of the other multinational task forces and missions deployed across the Sahel as a shield against the terrorists, surely the US Africa Command can annihilate the terrorist groups in the region in a month of combined air and land operations — if that was its true mission.
So who is fooling who?
The US Government is actually fully aware of the absurdities of its Africa Command military operations in the Sahel. Presenting an annual counterterrorism report and assessment of more than two decades of operations, Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently disclosed that ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates branches and networks in Africa were spreading and declared precisely that “the number of terrorist attacks and the overall number of fatalities resulting from those attacks increased by more than 10 percent in 2020 compared with 2019.” The report added that “ISIS-affiliated groups increased the volume and lethality of their attacks across West Africa, the Sahel, the Lake Chad Basin, and northern Mozambique,” while al-Qaeda “further bolstered its presence” in the Middle East and Africa. Yet there was not the slightest indication of disappointment or regret about these tragic strategic blunders. The only thing the US will not compromise is the advancement of its national security interests!
In the light of these unsettling narratives exposing the outrageous outcomes of US and “international” partnerships with Nigeria and other Sahel region nations against the Boko Haram/ Al Qaeda, ISIS and ISIL related destabilizing attacks, insurgency and terrorist crimes, it is very obvious that Nigeria is turning a blind eye to the reality of external sabotage due to irrational pre-occupation with the disheartening escalation of internal insecurity. It is no less disturbing that there is apparent indifference to the systematic prolongation and spread of the vicious assault on Nigeria under the guise of US-led, UK-backed, UN-endorsed war against terror that is statistically perpetuating rather than terminating the scourge. The only sensible humane purpose of any foreign support should be to bring conflicts to an end to enable government to regain its territorial integrity or negotiations to take, or both.
A bold break from this “forever war” scenario and a radical recourse to more feasible solutions that should re-consider the inclusion of other sources and forms of military foreign assistance, yes including Eeben Barlow’s South African contingent that “reclaimed territory the size of Belgium in one month” around Maiduguri in 2014, is urgently required. We had no qualms embracing Chinese loans which had more guaranteed outcomes of successfully executed projects and tangible socio-economic benefits after decades of World Bank/IMF white elephants, retrogressive hostile conditionalities and perpetual indebtedness.
The US/UN agenda for prosecuting the war against terror in Nigeria and the Sahel region has no exit strategy even as the war on terror has taken pandemic proportions around world. After two decades, defeated U.S. troops left Afghanistan last year and, according to the Costs of War Project, about one million people had been killed in direct violence in the war, leaving the Taliban in charge again! Perpetuating war is slow poison to erode sovereignty, destroy nations and pave the way for plundering the unexploited resources of developing countries like Nigeria.
Babatunde, former Editor, The Democrat, writes from Kaduna