By David Otto
The recent modus operandi of the terrorist in Northern Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin indicates that ISIS and Al-Qaeda linked Boko Haram/JAS Abubakar Shekau led faction and Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) are in serious battlefield decline. This is the ideal moment for the local population; local and international Non-governmental Organisations (INGOs) and the international community to positively enhance needed assistance to the Lake Chad regional states displaying genuine commitment and efforts towards restoring stability in the region. Similar to a well resourced Western backed coalition against ISIS self proclaimed Caliphate in Iraq and Syria, Lake Chad basin regional states should be effectively assisted towards the defeat of ISIS Caliphate in West Africa – in line with the global war against terror.
As rightly suspected, a video clip released recently by Abubakar Shekau led Boko Haram/JAS faction on the Site International Group reveals the loose ISIS and AlQaeda linked affiliated and supported Jihadists group is in a downward state of decline for the past two years. Sources with knowledge of the jihadists activities in the region strongly believe that the propaganda video was compiled in the JAS stronghold of Sambisa Forest along the fortified camps of Farisu and Garin Habu. The video may have been taken in the early morning hours (8am – 9:30am) of the 23rd or 24th of May during a joint factional Eid-el-Fitr prayers.
In contrast to previous Boko Haram/JAS Eid propaganda videos, the Abubakar Shekau led alliance appears seriously degraded and weakened compared to previous years where an energetic and heavily armed Shekau would be seen surrounded by armoured trucks; thousands of well armed fighters and flanked by top commanders to observe Eid prayers and thereafter slaughter chicken, rams and cattle for a feast.
It was previously reported that Boko Haram/JAS rival factions recently regrouped in a patchy reconciliation brokered by a network affiliated to the Libya terrorist Group –AZWAJ. They agreed to form an unholy alliance to launch coordinated attacks on military positions in Lake Chad Basin states in the past Holy month of Ramadan. They even waived fasting for their fighters to achieve such devilish Intents.
Not featuring Abubakar Shekau, the rushed-up video features several new and old Boko Haram Amirs. Some covering their faces to mask their identity. It is also an indication of their role as active and sleeper cells or agents mingling with state agencies and local NGOs. Thus misleading and confusing intelligence agents and informants. The video also features hundreds of jihadists families — women and young children often selected, trained and deployed by the group as suicide bombers; spies; and infiltrators of Internally Displaced Camps (IDPs) to gather information on logistics and food and non edible supply of humanitarian relief by the NGOs. This information is used by Boko Haram terrorists to plan and launch attacks on food convoys and IDP camps – stealing food, medicine and other essential items to sustain them.
Why is Boko Haram terrorist group is in Decline?
The celebration of Eid-el-Fitr Eid Duha are the only yearly opportunities for jihadists around the world to regroup and celebrate the Muslim Holy Month and Ram sacrificing Eid festivals. These occasions are exploited by jihadists in the region (separated along cells and units) for tactical reasons to demonstrate their combined capacity – weapons – recruits and solidarity/pay allegiance to invincible sponsors, local and international supporters and attempt psychological warfare tactics against the morale and fighting efficacy of regional troops.
This continuous visible decline in Boko Haram could be explained by the recently coordinated and state planned massive aerial and ground offensives on Boko Haram and ISWAP strongest holds by the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LBC) led Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) operation Yancin Tafki; Nigeria operation LAFIYA DOLE and Chad Operation Boma Wrath.
This latest video shows Boko Haram/JAS faction fighters in hundreds not in thousands. A huge reduction in the number of devoted armed fighters; reduction in huge weapons and mounted gun-trucks usually on display. Several Boko Haram and ISWAP home based and experienced foreign fighters, Amirs and unit commanders, some from the ruins of the collapsed so-called Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria have either been decapitated in their thousands or arrested, forcing desperate jihadist factions to resort to a massive ongoing recruitment of child soldiers to make up battlefield numbers.
Tactics of using civilians as shields
The known tactical display of Boko Haram fighters mixed with families of very young children, girls and mothers in separate gatherings is further evidence of an asymmetric warfare a kind of defensive ecosystem jihadists deploy in the region. The vulnerable group is used by Boko Haram as a shield to deter State planned precision aerial and land offensives on their known hideouts in Northern Nigeria the Lake Chad Basin given the Information obtained from such backgrounds.
This rehearsed jihadist tactic is used to manipulate and promote exaggerated reports and condemnation of Gross Violations of Human Rights and war crime from local and international Human Right organisations linked to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch –when they are hit from multiple angles.
In an era of asymmetric warfare – stakeholders must recognise that terrorists have established a tactic of blending in the midst of the vulnerable and the innocent to create confusion, suspicion and divide between the state security forces and the people they are supposed to protect. All measures to safeguard the Human Rights of innocent citizens must be taken – limiting collateral damage as much as practically possible.
As the capacity of ISIS and Al-Qaeda affiliates in Africa crumbles under regional pressure points, a committed, robust and coordinated multi-agency civilian and military regional soft and hard intervention is necessary. The overall strategy should have the full support and backing of the local population and the international community. A joint stakeholder endeavour will pave the way for lasting peace and security in the Lake Chad Basin with ripple positive effect on the rising Sahel- Liptako Gourma based jihadist activities.
Governments in the Lake Chad region – Nigeria – Cameroon – Niger and Chad and you some extent, Benin Republic, should improve proactive civil-military interventions towards providing good governance in vast ungoverned spaces – this is a resource intensive long term endeavour. All efforts employed to instil trust and win hearts and minds of the local population. These efforts (both short and long term) will enable a smooth process of trust building, attract information/intelligence sharing behaviour and regain control of local communities in preparation for eventual transition towards sustainable law enforcement driven peace and security.
No single Lake Chad state can use the might of its security and armed forces to defeat Jihadist operations in the region without the full support of the most impacted local population, the international community and other key stakeholders. Their efforts must be genuine and transparent towards one goal.
David Otto, the author is an expert on Counter Terrorism & Organised Crimes who has focused on terror networks in Africa, is with the Anti Terrorism Accreditation Board (ATAB) – Twitter: @ottotgs