The Nigerian military has launched several successful attacks against terrorist positions in the country’s north eastern state of Borno, recapturing a number of towns from the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) faction of Boko Haram. Those that have been cleared include: Baga, Zare, Gudumbali, Kukawa, Cross Kauwa, and Monguno.
The newly formed Nigerian Army Special Forces Command (NASFC, also known as 707 Special Forces Brigade) began a clearing operation on 28 December in those communities in northern Borno which were known to have an ISWAP presence.
With local troop morale now on the rise, the focus now is on clearing other communities in the area, especially in ISWAP’s core territory in the Lake Chad region. The military’s success was, in part, due to its collaboration with local vigilantes and soldiers from the neighbouring country, Chad.
With the lack of air and artillery support, ISWAP is forced to use guerrilla tactics and anti-government propaganda to wage its war. The risk here is that the insurgency can attack with little warning in the large and sparsely populated parts of northern Borno State. To overcome this, the army has to fully utilise its air support — which it finally appears to be doing — in addition to trying to work with local communities and intelligence from Chad. The Harmattan (desert wind) season has helped the army’s use of air power as it is now easy to spot the movement of terrorists before they reach military positions.
Fears that the elections could be postponed in the country’s North East region have also dampened following the successes of the Nigerian military. With the insurgents now expelled from the main towns, it is currently much more likely that the elections will be held in the region. This is crucial if the Federal Government is to demonstrate to local communities that Borno State enjoys a degree of governance.
Despite these victories, there are real risks that ISWAP will attempt to hit back. The group has been engaged in massive recruitment since they were driven out from their positions. They will also use the election period — during which President Muhammadu Buhari is preoccupied with securing his re-election — to strike hard. The question is where their next target will be.
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