By Anwar Kazaure
The Peril of Sahara’s Tides
In late 2009, a small Sect in North East Nigeria emerged into the spotlight for its audacity and its extreme ideology. In a moment, a single local event took this sect from its path of shunning public exposure and the Northern Nigerian Community which its followers considered to be morally decadent and living contrary to the norms they considered to be the pure Islamic Way of Life, the group suddenly started carrying out violent attacks on Police Stations and other symbols of the Nigerian State in obedience to a religious edict (fatwa) given by their charismatic leader, one Muhammad Yusouf.
In response, the President Late Umaru Musa Yar’adua ordered the deployment of the Army and Mobile Police Forces to crush this violent upheaval which threatens the peace and security of the Federation. With deadly efficiency, the security forces brought massive strength to play, displaying a disproportionate level of attrition as they quickly overran the Sect’s strongholds in Borno, Yobe and other neighboring States. The Media immediately named the Insurgents as “Boko Haram” and described its ideology as fundamentally Anti-Western Orthodoxy.
The Police reportedly began over-stepping their mandate by committing numerous acts that has now been condemned by all observers including International Human Rights Agencies as War Crimes and Extra-Judicial killings. Boko Haram’s leader Muhammad Yusouf himself was murdered by the Police after he was apprehended by the soldiers of the Nigerian Army and interviewed in their custody. Following this and other heavy-handed counter-insurgency measures carried out by the Security Forces such as the torching of houses and the Sect’s places of worship, the remaining survivors of the conflict retreated into the Sahara Desert and the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) declared Victory in a confrontation which saw heavily armed troops engaged a poorly organized band of fighters using archaic weapons including machetes, locally made firearms, and sometimes even bow and arrows.
Thus, the seeds of hatred were sown. Hatred that was further aggravated by the total political incompetence which followed this incidence, the government failed to properly study the problems which led to the crisis nor draw lessons from its failures, no reconciliation effort was undertaken and no action was taken to punish those guilty of committing extra-legal killings of sect members and many innocent civilians caught in the cross-fire. When the survivors fled to the protection of the Desert through Nigeria’s porous border, they were not a dismembered fighting force totally defeated as was claimed by the propaganda churned out by government media; they were rather a brotherhood bonded by blood and desire to exact retribution and revenge for perceived acts of injustice and persecution. They drew strength from their shared determination to return when they were stronger and capable of confronting the might of the Nigerian State.
The sect Jamāʻat Ahl as-Sunnah lid-daʻwa wal-Jihād better known as “Boko Haram” became an underground entity, sustained by its strong grassroots network of like-minded ideologues and new recruits from the huge pool of unemployed youth denied the opportunity for self-betterment by the exclusive nature of the Nigerian model.
They stayed in the shadows building an organizational structure and formulating a strategy that could deliver on their vision of revenge and retaliation. The strategy they chose is Guerrilla Warfare; their tactics are adopted from the catalog of Hit and Run techniques and urban combat methodology which enabled Insurgents from Afghanistan to Iraq to quite successfully challenge forces with massive military and technological superiority. The mainstream media may call this Terrorism, but students of history and modern warfare could testify to the lethal effectiveness and strategic flexibility of a well-motivated Insurgency Network.
According to conventional military wisdom and political common sense; at that early stage, the most crucial factor which would ultimately decide who triumphs in any such conflict is the support and allegiance of the local population in the arena of conflict. In Borno 2009, the abuses and blatant acts of Police Brutality displayed in an operation which exceeded the rules of engagement and created a debacle in which Innocent bystanders were targeted and unjustifiably detained, where young Children and other Passers-by where forced to lie down on the road, publicly and in cold-blood shot to death on the spot for no other reason than they appear to be Muslims in a State where 99% of the population is Muslim. Furthermore, even Crippled and others with disability where dealt with the same blood-thirsty and sadistic shootings which had led to the mortality of about a 1000 unreported victims. What happened in Maiduguri during those two days was quite clearly and undeniably another in the World’s list of Ethnic-Cleansing.
This and perhaps another poorly conceived policy of indefinitely detaining the families of slain or alleged members of Boko Haram Insurgents in dilapidated facilities that are in all but name Concentration Camps further invokes the memory of similar acts of tyranny in recent Human history and the people who perpetrated such vile actions.
When the FGN ignores this injustice and deny any accusations of gross human rights violations which the security forces carry out with outright impunity, it creates the conditions which make it impossible for any later claims to the moral high-ground, the righteousness of its cause or the loyalty of a Citizenry it is duty-bound to protect yet who ended up violently mistreated and brutally victimized.
In the first confrontation, Boko Haram lost the military skirmish but won two formidable assets that would prove invaluable to its struggle; first they gained the sympathy of the local populations, the tacit support of Community figures dismayed by the disproportionate level of aggression displayed by the Joint Task Force (J.T.F)- an outfit formed to restore order and carry out counter-insurgency operations in affected areas.
The J.T.F soon gained a reputation for having total disregard for civilian casualties, their heavy handed-ness, their lack of sensitivity to the cultural ethos of the societies they were supposed to safe-guard, and their humiliating attitude to the civil population further fuel the contempt with which the people respond to the full military occupation of their cities and villages.
Regular reports of death in custody and the extreme poverty prevalent in these war-torn societies only help push many unemployed youth into the arms of Boko Haram. The insurgents thereafter won the Propaganda War; with evidences of their persecution publicly available on Youtube, there are many world-wide who offer moral and financial support to an organization they say is waging a defensive Jihad.
Deep in the Sahara Desert, Boko Haram was reportedly successful in establishing strategic links with other regional Islamist groups that share its aspirations and Salafist ideology. They received combat training from the highly-sophisticated and ideologically mature Alqaeeda in the Islamic Maghreb, they formed ties with Somalia’s Al-Shabaab- the strongest non-governmental fighting force in Sub-Saharan Africa. This partnerships which allow Boko Haram’s personnel to get the best possible training in urban combat, Guerilla tactics and Asymmetric warfare also enables them to acquire medium-rate bomb-making capability, small arms, RPGs, Anti-Aircraft and Anti-Tank Missiles.
The overthrow of the Moumar Gaddafi regime in Libya further removes the constraints on Boko Haram’s inventory and for the first time, SA-27 advanced heat-seeking missiles, mortars, small range rockets and thousands of abandoned artillery shells with improvised home-made launchers were fully within their grasp.
Their strategy of creating key alliances with other Islamists in the region not only allowed Boko Haram to rebuild its organization from the ashes of its past into a formidable fighting force, it also dealt a major blow to the foundation of Sub-Saharan Africa’s stability and socioeconomic order. This produced a situation with vast Geo-political dimensions; such inter-connectedness of Insurgency Networks threatens the existing balance of power and the long-term prospects of the current status-quo.
Last year, Boko Haram was reported to have played a leading role in the capture of the strategic cities of Gao and Kidal in Northern Mali. Intelligence reports highlighted the growing evolution of their regional ambition as they join other allied regional Islamist Insurgency forces such as Ansar Al-Deen, Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MOJUWA), the secular MNLA and AQIM to overrun Northern Mali; they defeated the poorly motivated Malian Military, seized their heavy equipment and successfully occupied an area the size of France. They then began setting up authoritarian Islamist administrations in the conquered territory together with their secular allies the Toureg Separatists, before long they were able to marginalize the Touregs whose grievances was the trigger which ignited the rebellion.
Ansar and its fundamentalist partners isolated the MNLA and took complete control of Northern Mali, this was accomplished through bitter infighting between rival factions in which the Islamist were able to emerge triumphant over the Secular fighters. Given the rampant corruption prevalent in the MNLA camps and the obvious opportunist disposition of its leadership cadre, it was no surprise that the better equipped and more organized Ansar, Boko Haram and MOJUWA prevailed. Sources on the ground in Northern Mali allege that members of Boko Haram were publicly fighting tenaciously for Gao, a vital city which they helped Ansar capture and administer.
Such developments might appear inessential to some but others are quick to point out the dangerous implications of the Northern Mali episode. We can ignore the immense danger of having the insurgency expand into our backyard, we can close our eyes to the reports that Boko Haram has been using Mali’s mountainous terrain as training ground for its new recruits, a supply route and an area where acts of war are planned and carried out from across the border against the Nigerian State.
What we cannot understand so far is the poor manner in which the FGN chose to handle the Malian crisis; is it an international problem to be resolved by foreign military intervention into our immediate neighborhood? Is it another military engagement against enemy entities with our collective National Security as the prize? The coalition of insurgents in the Sahara Desert is indeed a clear and present danger to the territorial integrity of Nigeria and her neighboring states. The manner in which the FGN chose to respond to the situation at hand was at best abysmal, but that is a story for another day. The most critical development wasn’t the unconvincing and possibly illegal French intervention, it was the fact that Boko Haram and its associated movements have for the first time learned to take and maintain control (authority) over vast territories, a model with all the defining characteristics of a totalitarian reign of terror.
French Forces for the Operation Seval- the neo-colonial quagmire of Mali.
Following the loss of Northern Mali to Islamist Militants and the fall of the Malian Government to a coup de etat, the constitutional crisis in Bamako and the seizure of the 3 most strategic cities in the region by a Separatist and Islamist rebellion with fewer than four thousand fighters, the poor performance of the Malian Army (which turned out to be unworthy of the name) and their failure to defend even their own Barracks, repeatedly fleeing in the face of enemy assault, leaving behind many heavy artillery pieces ( a nice addition to the Rebels hi-tech arsenal looted from the arms depot of deposed Libyan Dictator Mouamar Gaddafi).
Nigeria became at the frontline of the ECOWAS regional effort to relieve Mali. Several meetings of Defense Minister was conducted in Abuja and at the end of which, bluffs and counter-bluffs were made but their goal of liberating Northern Mali and restoring constitutional rule in the country seemed almost a twilight fantasy. The question then and now is why did France- Mali’s former Colonial administrator and a nation which still maintains tight control on the economy and internal politics of its ester-while protectorates in West Africa, a control supported and enforced by a ring of Military bases in the region failed to react in time before the MNLA or Ansar could pose any threat to Timbuktu?
After all, when they did intervene recently, we have seen how massive sorties by Mirage Fighter Jets could deny Mobility and Freedom of action to Insurgents. Many may find it difficult to believe the crisis itself wasn’t engineered or at least manipulated by foreign powers to their own advantage. The same goes for the not-so local extremist insurgencies showing their ugly face all across the continent from the Sahel to the Horn of Africa, heralding the birth of a new season for their dark rituals of barbarism.
To be continued.
Next: Riddles in the Sands (II) – From Paris with Love (a compelling case of French and Israeli False-Flag Operations, Psy-Ops and a 50 years Covert War).