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Since late August Boko Haram has carried out several successful attacks against the military in the northeast. The number of soldiers killed is unclear because the army continues to provide misleading data on losses or no information at all. So most Nigerians are dependent on rumor and a few eyewitnesses. Disgruntles soldiers are often speaking up and in August one unit refused to go back to the northeast. Soldiers continue to complain of corruption among their superiors and insufficient equipment, weapons and support in general. One thing most everyone can agree on is that soldier morale in the northeast is poor and getting worse.
The recent increase in Boko Haram attacks is mainly due to another factional feud within Boko Haram. One of the more moderate (willing to negotiate) leaders, Mamman Nur, was deposed and killed on August 21st by more aggressive subordinates who also suspected Nur of getting large payments from the government and not sharing them. The new Boko Haram leader are willing to carry out more attacks, no matter what the risk is to the Boko Haram attackers. Nur was a key leader in the Barnawi faction of Boko Haram, which considers itself part of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). This faction not only attracts the more fanatic Boko Haram diehards but also many of the most paranoid ones. Mamman Nur was known as an effective leader and unlikely to be capable of accepting a secret ransom and keeping that quiet. The death of Nur triggered a number of large scale attacks by the ISIL faction of Boko Haram and these raids got a lot of Boko Haram men killed or wounded. Since many of the attacks took place near the Niger border it attracted the attention of the Niger military which has sent more troops to the Nigeria border to seek out the base camps these Boko Haram factions are using. The Boko Haram knew enough to behave on the Niger side of the border and that worked until the Boko Haram violence on the Nigeria side of the border became too frequent to ignore.
Boko Haram persists in the northeast in large part because one of the two rival factions has adopted more effective tactics, at least until recently. The Barnawi (or “Albarnawi”) faction is recognized by ISIL and follows the current ISIL doctrine of concentrating attacks on security forces and government officials (preferably the corrupt ones). That makes it easier to extort (raise taxes) cash and other goods from the local population. The Barnawi faction has several thousand active gunmen and operates mainly in the far north of Borno state near Lake Chad and the Niger border. The smaller Shekau faction has about half as many armed men and operates further south near the Borno State capital of Maiduguri and the Sambisa Forest.
Money matters and one reason the Barnawi faction has been more successful is their emphasis on raising cash, especially via large ransoms for hostages, especially foreign hostages. There was never a specific demand made in public but the government paid for high value captives, like the May 2017 agreement that got 82 of the Chibok captives (from 2014) released in exchange for the freedom of eight Boko Haram leaders being held and awaiting prosecution for mass murder, terrorism and so on. Many Nigerians believed these men should have at least stood trial before being traded for hostages. As expected some of the freed Boko Haram leaders promptly went back to Islamic terrorism. At the same time Boko Haram had very visibly divided into factions. Back in March 2017 Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a video to boast that he was still alive and operating in the northeast. At that point security forces had claimed Shekau was dead at least five times since 2011 but so far had always been wrong. In late 2016 there was hope that a recent split in Boko Haram might lead to Shekau getting killed by other Islamic terrorists but that hasn’t happened either and the two main factions appear to have achieved some kind of truce with each other and continue to operate.
The Boko Haram split began in August 2016 when ISIL announced that it was replacing Shekau, who was accused of mismanagement, with Abu Musab al Barnawi. ISIL believed Shekau devoted too much effort to killing fellow Moslems (especially civilians) rather than the real enemies of ISIL (local security forces and non-Moslems in general). ISIL leadership was also unhappy with the Boko Haram use of children and women as suicide bombers. That has become an issue in Nigeria because the use of children as suicide bombers has tripled during 2017. While the new Boko Haram leader has concentrated attacks on the security forces and non-Moslems he has also used children, especially females, as suicide bombers. Barnawi is a son of Mohammed Yusuf, one of the ISIL founders. Barnawi was appointed the main Boko Haram spokesman in January 2015. Although Barnawi has developed a following in Boko Haram Shekau refused to accept the ISIL decision. The Barnawi faction has also been more successful at online recruiting (via encrypted messaging systems like Telegram and frequently shifting presence on social media sites like Facebook.) Barnawi was also more willing to delegate important tasks to subordinates, like Nur. That worked until it didn’t and now many of the Barnawi factions appear to have gone rogue.
The national government has occasionally carried on unofficial talks with the Barnawi faction of Boko Haram. This faction is also known as ISWA (the Islamic State West Africa province) and has access to resources Islamic terror groups use help negotiate large ransoms for hostages, especially foreign hostages. These hostage negotiations apparently evolved into discussions about a peace deal, but appeared to get nowhere.
September 17, 2018: The Red Cross reported that one of its personnel was killed after being held by Boko Haram for six months.
September 14, 2018: In the northeast (Borno State) Boko Haram attacked two villages 90 kilometers north of the state capital Maiduguri. Local defense volunteers tried to stop them but lost eight dead and four wounded. Boko Haram rounded up most of the livestock and fled with the animals. Soldiers and local militiamen arrived after Boko Haram had left.
September 12, 2018: In the northeast (Borno State) Boko Haram attacked an army base at Damasak and were repulsed losing seven dead. The soldiers had seven wounded and believe the Boko Haram attackers came from bases across the nearby border in Niger.
September 10, 2018: Nigeria signed several agreements with Chinese oilfield development companies for China to participate in exploring for oil in Nigeria in addition to developing new oil and gas fields as well as existing ones. Many Western companies will no longer do this work in Nigeria because of the lawlessness and corruption, which frequently cause oil operations to be shut down. Oil buyers have noted this as well and Nigerians complain that they are losing sales to American producers, who use fracking to produce so much oil that the U.S. is again a major exporter. The quality of the U.S. and Nigerian is similar and the prices are often lower. In April-June Nigerian production was 1.84 million BPD (barrels per day), which was down from two million BPD during the first three months of the year. By the end of 2017 Nigerian oil production had hit 2.03 million BPD and so far 2018 looks like it will average 1.8 million BDP because of long-delayed maintenance and refurbishment of the oil production facilities in the Niger River Delta (where most of the production is). At the end of 2016 Nigerian oil production was rising to levels not seen for years. That has been the trend for most of 2017 because the new government had negotiated a peace deal with the local rebels (who opposed corruption and bad treatment of locals in general). Production rose and is on the way to the goal of 2.5 million BPD by 2020 but achieving that level of production depends on keeping the peace in the Delta. Continued corruption and rampant oil theft makes it difficult to increase production and sustain those higher production levels.
September 7, 2018: In the northeast (Borno State) soldiers tracked down a group of Boko Haram who had ambushed a convoy two days earlier and kidnapped 21 civilians. After a brief gun battle 14 Boko Haram were dead, four soldiers wounded and 21 civilians rescued.
Elsewhere in Borno several hundred Boko Haram attacked the town of Gudumbali, which is halfway between the state capital Maiduguri and where the borders of Niger and Chad meet. The fighting went on overnight and several hundred civilians fled to Maiduguri where they gave different accounts of what happened during the overnight fighting. Many civilians thought Boko Haram was going to overrun the town again and kill all the soldiers and many civilians. The army reported that they had repulsed the attack. Many civilians insisted that Boko Haram had overrun parts of the town and nearby military base and looted before troops forced them out.
August 31, 2018: In central Nigeria (Plateau state) Fulani herders have been particularly aggressive during the last week of August, bringing their livestock into farming areas so their cattle can fatten up on crops. The armed Fulani often get away with it and when soldiers or police do show up and seize the cattle the Fulani have to pay compensation to the farmers to get their cattle back. Some of these Fulani go after local farmer leaders. These are often Christian clerics, as most of the farmers are Christian. The violence has left several dozen dead in a week and considerable damage to crops. To make matters worse the troops are often reluctant to go after the Fulani, who are heavily armed and willing to fight the soldiers.
Further north, in Zamfara state there is similar violence but everyone involved is Moslem. This area is also undergoing an upsurge in fighting between Fulani herders and Hausa farmers. To make matters worse the area is notorious for groups of bandits that steal cattle as well as raid farming villages. That, plus the Fulani violence has caused at least 3,000 deaths in the last two years. Most of the attacks are raids for the purpose of looting and leaving. The Fulani raiders often run into Hausa self-defense militias and the resulting battles leave many on both sides dead or wounded. The Fulani raids are usually after cattle and other loot. Both Hausa and Fulani are Moslem so religion is not a factor here. Moslem leaders want attention paid to the growing tribal feuds between Moslem tribes, especially like the battles between Fulani and Hausa in Zamfara. The violence in Zamfara state has led to the national police sending in hundreds of additional paramilitary personnel to deal (or try to deal) with that situation. The police have not had much impact and usually leave after conducting some operations that are avoided by the local bandits.
August 30, 2018: In the northeast (Borno State) a Boko Haram attack on an army base near the Niger border left over 40 soldiers dead.
This article is copyrighted and republished with permission from our friends at Strategy Page.
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