Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Politics of Armament Against Boko Haram Insurgency 
Federal Republic of Nigeria soldiers.
Nigerian Guardian

The last two weeks have witnessed remarkable improvements in the war against Boko Haram insurgents who had hitherto held the North Eastern part of the country by the jugular. Confidence has been restored in the military and the terrorist are counting their losses. Obviously, this current shift in tide could not have happened without strategic approach to fighting the war, MADU ONUORAH, our Abuja Bureau Chief , examines the various diplomatic and political interplay behind this exploits

SLOWLY, the expected tide is turning in Nigeria’s favour in the war against Boko Haram insurgents as successes by the Nigerian military against the terrorists are beginning to emerge on a consistent basis.

  The first major trend against Boko Haram started penultimate Friday when the insurgents were dealt a debilitating blow during their futile attempt to take over Konduga town, about 70 kilometres from Maiduguri.

   The military, combining air power with infantry land operations ambushed the insurgents on their march from Bama to Konduga. Air Force jets and attack helicopters rained bombs while ground troops picked those that attempted to flee. Over 100 of the terrorists were killed. Several weapons including anti-aircraft guns mounted on trucks, Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs), an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC), hilux trucks and caches of ammunition and guns were recovered.

   Last Wednesday, the Nigerian military routed the insurgents again, killing 450 of the Boko Haram fighters in the revenge ‘battle of Konduga.’ This marks the highest single day casualty suffered by the insurgents. Also, several of their high calibre weapons were captured.

   And going by indications from the military high command, it is bound to continue. Some top military officers have been hinting for some weeks that the narrative in the war against Bako Haram is set to change. Last Tuesday, Brig Gen Olajide Laleye, the Director of Army Public Relations, spoke on the boost in the mojo of the Nigerian military, noting that “the renewed morale, fighting spirit and combat efficiency of troops have been boosted by new strategies devised by the Armed Forces of Nigeria and the support of well-meaning members of the public.”

   The upbeat in the military has simmered to The Presidency as President Goodluck Jonathan told a meeting of his party’s National Executive Committee last Thursday that “we are working very hard. We are rebuilding our infrastructure in terms of security infrastructure and God willing, between now and the middle of October, things would have changed drastically.”

   Really, a top military source had confirmed to The Guardian that “there are lots of improvements in operations now. The level of coordination between the intelligence branches and the Services especially the Nigeria Air Force has increased. We are recording more successes on ground because of this and also because the troops are being encouraged. Remember that after the Passing Out Parade (POP) last weekend in Kaduna, top military leaders went to the hospital where wounded troops are being treated to show empathy.

   “They did not only receive medals of honour, the wounded troops had ‘heart to heart’ talks with their civilian and military commanders. It has never happened before. Troops, both in the theatre of operations and elsewhere, now know that if they die in service of Nigeria, the nation will take care of their families. And equipment is coming in to improve what is happening and change the equation. In the next two weeks, there will be drastic change in the narrative as the tempo of operations against the Boko Haram sect would have shifted. “

   But the good news from the frontlines is coming in spite of challenges. The most debilitating of the challenges remains Nigeria’s inability to procure the needed weapons to build up its military capabilities due to dearth of concrete support from Nigeria’s Western allies. Despite the fact that Boko Haram has carried out countless kidnappings, killings, bombings and attacks on civilian and military targets resulting in death of thousands of Nigerians, all Nigeria has gotten from Western allies are mere public support and lectures to Nigerian military and security agents on how to respect human rights.

   It is such that while the Boko Haram troops were gaining on the ground, US and its allies still found it difficult to give the necessary approvals for Nigeria to buy their weapons. They hinge their policy on the Nigerian military’s alleged human rights abuses. This accusation has stuck since the days of Nigeria’s ECOMOG operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone when Nigerian military was accused by Western nations and international human rights groups of foisting peace on the countries on the back of widespread of human rights abuses.

   This accusation still holds today. According to a May 13, 2014 intelligence briefing produced by the Soufan Group that provides strategic security intelligence services to governments and multinational organizations in collaboration with the Africa Centre at the Atlantic Council titled ‘Legal Limits to Assistance’ to the Nigerian military in the war against Boko Haram, “while Boko Haram is an appropriate target for US counterterror efforts, Washington will be wary of putting an American face on the brutal tactics of the Nigerian military, and will consequently limit its involvement.” This, it said, is because “the Obama administration will no doubt be criticized for failing to do more, but its hands are tied.

   “A law called the Leahy Amendment strictly prohibits direct military assistance to any foreign military unit where credible information indicates it has violated human rights—until it can pass a vetting process or restrictions are waived due to extraordinary circumstances. Before the American “coordination cell” can provide more than limited support, it somehow will have to certify that the Nigerian troops it is assisting are not guilty of perpetrating human rights abuses.

   “That is likely to be exceptionally difficult. Since 2009, the Nigerian military has been widely accused by local witnesses and human rights groups of killing thousands of people—many of them innocent civilians—in its efforts to destroy Boko Haram. The military is accused of burning an entire village to the ground in April 2013, and of summarily executing scores of suspects. Almost one year ago, those abuses by Nigerian troops forced US Secretary of State John Kerry to declare, “we are…deeply concerned by credible allegations that Nigerian security forces are committing gross human rights violations, which, in turn, only escalate the violence and fuel extremism.”

   “Because the murder of civilians is believed to be so extensive and systemic, finding a Nigerian military unit that does not have blood on its hands will be tricky—and it may require shipping an entirely new crop of Nigerian soldiers to the North. Large numbers of Nigerian soldiers already have rotated in and out of the counterinsurgency campaign.”

   The Leahy Law or Amendment, named after its principal sponsor, Senator Patrick Leahy, clearly prohibits the U.S. Department of State and Department of Defence from providing military assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity. Specifically, the law covering State Department funded aid as specified in Section 620M of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (as amended most recently in January 2014) states: “(a) IN GENERAL. – No assistance shall be furnished under this Act or the Arms Export Control Act to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.” The part dealing with the Department of Defence states that “(a) IN GENERAL - (1) None of the funds made available by this Act may be used for any training, equipment, or other assistance for the members of a unit of a foreign security force if the Secretary of Defence has credible information that the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.

   To implement this law, U.S. embassies and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour and the appropriate regional bureau of the U.S. Department of State vet potential recipients of security assistance.If a unit is found to have been credibly implicated in a serious abuse of human rights, assistance is denied until the host nation government takes effective steps to bring the responsible persons within the unit to justice. While the U.S. Government does not publicly report on foreign armed force units it has cut off from receiving assistance, US media reports indicated that security force units in Nigeria, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia, and Pakistan have been denied assistance due to the Leahy Law. Nigeria is the only country in Africa on the list as no one unit of the Nigerian military or security services was exempted by the US from accusation of gross human rights violations.

   Even before the recent escalation of the Boko Haram insurgency, United States and international human rights groups have accused Nigeria of “gross human rights violation.” For example, the 2011 human rights report of 2011 under the title ‘Respect For Human Rights’ noted in Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person from Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life that “the (Nigerian) government or its agents committed numerous extrajudicial killings. According to credible eyewitness accounts, uniformed security forces participated in killings during ethnic violence in Plateau State.

   “Security forces were responsible for killings during attempts to apprehend religious extremists. National police, army, and other security forces committed extrajudicial killings and used lethal and excessive force to apprehend criminals and suspects, as well as to disperse protesters. According to a December 2009 Amnesty International (AI) report, security services executed detainees in custody, suspected armed robbers under arrest, persons who refused to pay bribes, and persons stopped during road checks.”

   The situation is not helped by the United States Diplomatic Mission in Nigeria Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013 which stated that “the most serious human rights abuses during the year were those committed by Boko Haram, which conducted killings, bombings, abduction and rape of women, and other attacks throughout the country, resulting in numerous deaths, injuries, and widespread destruction of property; those committed by security services, which perpetrated extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, beatings, arbitrary detention, mistreatment of detainees, and destruction of property; and widespread societal violence, including ethnic, regional, and religious violence.”

   Amnesty International said in its March report that “the credibility of the Nigerian military is already low. It has an abysmal human rights record, with more than 600 extra-judicial killings this year alone and 950 known deaths in military custody in the first half of 2013. On Thursday, Amnesty labelled its report on alleged widespread human rights abuses in Nigeria by the military and security agencies: “Welcome To Hell Fire.”

   Because of this, the Western block nations have been reluctant in approving sale of needed weapons to Nigeria. Instead, US counterterrorism support to Nigeria in the fight against Boko Haram “focuses on building critical counterterrorism capabilities among Nigeria’s civilian and law enforcement agencies.” As stated in the Fact Sheet, Office of the Spokesperson Washington, DC May 14, 2014 titled Boko Haram and U.S. Counterterrorism Assistance to Nigeria, “this supports the larger U.S. objective of encouraging Nigeria to develop and implement a comprehensive approach to counter Boko Haram that upholds and enforces the rule of law, provides civilian protection, respects human rights and international norms, and addresses the underlying grievances that Boko Haram exploits (including through development gains and through responsive governance). Based on our longstanding concerns about Boko Haram, we have a robust security dialogue and assistance relationship with Nigeria. As part of the Bi-National Commission Framework, we hold regular Regional Security working group meetings focused on the Boko Haram threat and ways our two governments can collaborate on a holistic approach to countering the group.

   “Our security assistance is in line with our efforts to ensure Nigeria takes a comprehensive approach to countering Boko Haram. We are working to build Nigerian law enforcement capacities to investigate terrorism cases, effectively deal with explosive devices, and secure Nigeria’s borders, while underscoring that the most effective counterterrorism policies and practices are those that respect human rights and are underpinned by the rule of law. We are also focused on enabling various Nigerian security services with fusing multiple information streams to develop a better understanding of Boko Haram. Our military assistance supports the professionalization of key military units and improves their ability to plan and implement appropriate steps to counter Boko Haram and ensure civilian security. The State Department’s Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program enhances Nigerian law enforcement’s capability to prevent, detect, and investigate terrorism threats; secure Nigeria’s borders; and manage responses to terrorist incidents. ATA’s primary partners are the Nigerian Police Force (NPF), Customs Service, Immigration Service, and National Emergency Management Agency. ATA represents the only donor assistance to Nigerian law enforcement on identifying, diffusing, and the safe disposal of improvised explosives devices (IEDs). ATA curriculum has been integrated into NPF training curriculum, supporting its ability to respond to IED attacks in Abuja and to deploy to the northeast part of the country where Boko Haram attacks are the most frequent.

   “Countering violent extremism (CVE) programs aim to limit recruits to BH by reducing sympathy and support for its operations, through three primary objectives: (1) building resilience among communities most at risk of recruitment and radicalization to violence; (2) countering BH narratives and messaging; and (3) building the CVE capacity of government and civil society. Such efforts include promoting engagement between law enforcement and citizens, and elevating the role of women civil society leaders in CVE. The Centre for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications has developed a strong partnership with the Government of Nigeria, and in conjunction with other international partners, provided assistance on developing a comprehensive communications strategy. The State Department’s Counterterrorism Finance (CTF) program provides training that aims to restrict Boko Haram’s ability to raise, move, and store money. CTF’s current focus provides Nigeria with cross border financial investigations training to work effectively with counterparts in neighbouring countries on critical CTF cases.”

   In furtherance of this policy, when the uproar that greeted the April 14 abduction of over 200 schools girls of Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State by Boko Haram, the US sent in a team of military and law enforcement personnel skilled in intelligence gathering, hostage negotiation and victim assistance. They arrived in Nigeria’s capital Abuja on May 9, 2014. They joined a US team already in place for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support, including manned aerial reconnaissance missions and sharing commercial satellite imagery with their Nigerian military counterparts.                        The US is joined by other nations including Britain, China, Spain, France and Israel. Nigeria specifically requested for US additional surveillance platforms to include drones, but the US is still weighing the request.

   This posture by the Western bloc  nations has resulted in the embarrassment and public relations fiasco when a Nigerian chartered jet, two Nigerians and an Israeli were arrested by South African police for trying to bring $9.3 million into their country as the nation resorted to buying arms in the open market. Explaining the recourse to cash and carry option in the search for weapons, a military source told The Guardian that “the truth is that since the war against the Boko Haram started, weapons ordered by Nigeria from the Western block were being delayed over what they termed “compliance issue.” In order to speed up the supply of the needed weapons to the troops on the frontlines, Nigeria decided to buy the much- needed weapons from open arms markets through South Africa. This is a stop-gap measure.

   “But the reactions from Nigerians seem to view the orchestrated arrest of the jet, passengers and cash as unheard of. It is not unusual for countries to buy weapons through such transactions. It is quite regular in international weapon business for countries to buy weapons needed in the face of security challenges from open sources. In that case, such transactions are on cash and carry basis. All nations, irrespective of their public posture do the same. It is common.”

   Nigeria, he stated is reviewing its options in terms of procurement of weapons systems. Said he, “the US and its allies are not supporting us. All they are interested in is human rights. I believe there is a natural hatred for the Nigerian military by the West.

This has made things really very very difficult for Nigeria especially on the battle field. If the West is not blocking us by accusing us of human rights violations, they want Nigeria to drop its weapons systems that came from the East, that is China and Russia, in favour of their own equipment only holding. But Nigeria traditionally gets its weapon holdings from both East and West. What is clear is that the same scenario that played out during Nigeria’s civil war is here again.

   “Then, a Nigeria in trouble looked up to its traditional allies, the West. But they disappointed, citing same unending reasons of human rights abuses and exclusivity of equipment holding. Nigeria then looked up to the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and their allies which then bailed it out. Nigeria now has no choice but to go back to the same people it relied upon to successfully execute the civil war. What many Nigerian don’t know is that despite all the public pledges of assistance to Nigeria to fight Boko Haram, the US and the Western block countries are not giving or selling to it any military equipment to build up its military capability in order to diminish the capabilities of the insurgent group.

   “In fact, Israel could not sell to Nigeria the combat helicopters it needs because it did not get the required authorisation from the US. And this inability to receive the initial weapons it ordered slowed down its operations in the North East.  Now, mark this, Nigeria is going to East for its military platform needs. The country urgently needs the Mi-35 helicopters and other platforms and only Russia and China can make that possible. So, don’t be surprised to see the President and Commander-In-Chief visiting Russia very soon to soothe the ground to make the necessary weapon platform available for the Nigeria Armed Forces.”

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