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Monthly intelligence briefing on the Boko Haram insurgency: July 2017

by Scott Hickie and Matthew Clarke

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This is the fourth of five monthly intelligence briefings on the Boko Haram insurgency being prepared for the Remote Control Project. The series will finish with an in-depth briefing on the international and regional coalitions against Boko Haram and the special forces, drones and other ‘remote warfare’ assets being deployed against the militant group.

International organisations

  1. The head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mohamed Ibn Chambas, told the UN Security Council on 13 July that ‘the failure to provide basic services and viable livelihood opportunities for communities in affected areas risks derailing recent successes against Boko Haram’. Chambas also told the Security Council that the mode and sophistication of recent attacks by Boko Haram on Maiduguri and Diffa may suggest that the group has recently recruited reinforcements. Chambas’s briefing of the Security Council suggests that despite the Nigerian government’s rhetoric on defeating the insurgency, international observers are wary of the possibility of Boko Haram regenerating by exploiting ongoing human security challenges, such as limited food, water and sanitary services. On 24 July, the Security Council president for July, Liu Jieyi, issued a statement in response to Chambas’s briefing noting that council members and regional security partners need to improve intelligence-sharing with the Multinational Joint Task Force and increase humanitarian assistance to Lake Chad Basin countries.
  2. The UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Pramila Patten, met with the commander of Nigeria’s Operation Lafiya Dole, Major General Ibrahim Attahiru, on 16 July to discuss gender-based violence. Attahiru claimed that the command had undertaken multiple initiatives to prevent sexual violence by troops, such as education, training and revised codes of conduct. Patten suggested that the command initiate a more systematic approach to confronting gender-based violence.
  3. Amnesty International released a report on 19 July alleging over 100 cases of unlawful arrest, detention and torture of civilians by Cameroonian forces seeking intelligence on Boko Haram militants. The report identifies the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) headquarters in Salak and a General Directorate of External Research (DGRE) facility in Yaoundé as the main sites where detained civilians were subjected to torture and, in some cases, may have died in detention as a result of torture. This is the third year in a row that Amnesty International has released detailed allegations of human rights violations by Cameroonian troops in counter-terrorism operations against Boko Haram. The latest report claims that US and French personnel, including military contractors, have been present at bases where detainees have been tortured. The report’s recommendations include that governments supporting Cameroon in the fight against Boko Haram should take steps to persuade the Cameroonian military to investigate allegations of torture.
  4. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Regional Office for Africa is trying to support internally displaced persons (IDPs), returnees and host communities in Borno State in Nigeria to address food insecurity by distributing 3,600 goats to about 900 vulnerable women. The emergency animal restocking programme complements an existing World Food Program cash-based assistance programme for households, which together are known as a cash+ approach. The World Bank is also delivering food, livelihood and farm inputs to households in Borno in an attempt to address food insecurity. The World Bank programme, the FADAMA III Project, has delivered support to over 6,600 households. The Nigerian National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) recently counted and validated 373,479 IDPs representing 63,966 households across food distribution hubs in Yobe, Borno and Adamawa states.
  5. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) considered a report on Nigeria’s record of protecting women and girls on 21 July. The report called for more action to protect girls in schools, and raised concerns about the use of schools for military operations. In its response, the Nigerian government claimed that operational protocols prevent armed forces from occupying or using schools. The Nobel laureate and UN Messenger of Peace Malala Yousafzai met with Nigeria’s vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo, in Abuja on 17 July to discuss education priorities in northeastern Nigeria and meet with some of the Chibok schoolgirls previously held by Boko Haram. In a press release after the meeting, Yousafzai argued that Nigeria should declare a ‘state of emergency on education in Nigeria’. In a related development, the targeted disruption of educational institutions by Boko Haram has influenced the development of a new UNICEF radio education programme launched in late July, which will allow classes to be delivered in homes rather than school environments.
  6. The International Crisis Group has described a stark and challenging conflict environment in Nigeria, where Boko Haram is intensifying its attacks and the military units deployed across 28 out of 36 states appear overstretched. In a conflict update, the NGO suggests that the rainy season in northern Nigeria, which extends into September, is providing Boko Haram with an opportunity to regroup. The Nigerian defence minister, Mansur Dan-Ali, observed on 27 July that the rainy season will impede the effectiveness of Nigeria’s armed forces
  7. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) announced the formal allocation of new funds through the Nigeria Humanitarian Fund (NHF) on 31 July. The fund primarily aims to address the humanitarian crisis in northeastern Nigeria. The first $10.5 million allocation will be directed to areas with limited access and where flooding, disease outbreaks and new displacements continue to take place. The second allocation will take place in August 2017.

International partners

  1. US Africa Command (AFRICOM) has acknowledged that US forces are stationed at a Rapid Intervention Battalion base in Salak where Amnesty International claims Cameroonian soldiers tortured civilians. Media reports suggest that the US state department was already aware of allegations of torture at the facility through investigations conducted by its Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. The US ambassador to Cameroon recently acknowledged that certain units of the BIR are ineligible for US training assistance because of human rights violations. On 6 June, the US president, Donald Trump, advised the US Congress that US forces would remain in Cameroon until no longer needed. It is possible that Salak’s importance as a hub Western intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) operations in the Lake Chad region and BIR’s strong capabilities in aviation, logistics, counter-IEDs and force protection are leading AFRICOM and the White House to ignore allegations of torture. This is despite the fact that US lawmakers have consistently raised concerns about military training and support activities for Nigeria due to human rights violations and corruption.
  2. A French delegation led by the minister for armed services, Florence Parly, visited the Multinational Joint Taskforce headquarters in Ndjamena, Chad, on 31 July. During the meeting, the MNJTF commander, Lucky Irabor, expressed gratitude for France’s consistent support against Boko Haram. Parly noted that the delegation was interested in applying the lessons learned by the MNJTF in the G5 Sahel Joint Task Force.
  3. During a visit to Maiduguri on 1 August, a representative from the US embassy in Nigeria announced that the United States would provide training and technical support to the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC). The package is intended to enhance the NSDDC’s counter-terrorism capabilities and its ability to protect domestic and foreign-owned critical infrastructure by training an estimated 25 officers. The training may be extended to the Nigerian Police Force.

Regional coalitions and local governments

  1. In an interview on the BBC’s HARDtalk television programme on 4July, Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, conceded that Boko Haram has not been completely eliminated. The admission comes as Boko Haram’s change of tactics during 2017 has resulted in continued civilian and military deaths from suicide attacks. In separate public statements, the Nigerian Army have advised that Boko Haram are now using tactics that draw in crowds and first responders before detonating IEDs to achieve maximum casualties.
  2. The Nigerian Army advised on 3 July that an estimated 700 Boko Haram militants had surrendered after multiple attacks on their positions on the fringes of Sambisa Forest in Borno State as part of Operation Lafiya Dole. In the press release, the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, acknowledged the support of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) and advised that some of the captured militants held significant positions in Boko Haram.
  3. Defence officials from the MNJTF countries met in Yaounde, Cameroon, from 3 to 6 July to discuss the progress made against Boko Haram and resourcing the task force. Defence ministers from Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Benin noted that major military campaigns had splintered Boko Haram into smaller groups thereby disaggregating the MNJTF’s resources. They also warned that the militaries of the MNJTF lack sufficient resources for wages.
  4. Niger Army soldiers killed 14 farmers on 5 July after mistaking them for militants moving through a restricted zone near Abadam village in the Diffa region. The incident highlights the risks to local communities that may find themselves in restricted areas recently cleared of Boko Haram fighters.
  5. The acting chairperson of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, claimed during a meeting with stakeholders in Kano on 7 July that widespread corruption is helping finance Boko Haram.
  6. The coordinator of Nigeria’s Operation Safe Corridor, Major-General Bamidele Shafa, told local media on 8 July that an estimated 52 recently-captured Boko Haram fighters had elected to participate in de-radicalisation programmes.
  7. On 9 July, the legal adviser to Nigeria’s Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), Jubril Gunda, disclosed that 680 CJTF members had died since 2014 while fighting Boko Haram. Gunda used the announcement to call on the government to provide greater support to the families of CJTF fighters killed in combat operations, and urged law enforcement agencies and the military to work more collaboratively with the 780 members of the CJTF.
  8. On 10 July, Nigeria’s Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, announced a call for tenders for a new liquid oxygen (LOX) plant to be built at Nigerian Air Force Base Yola to provide increased supplies for NAF pilots. It is anticipated that the increased LOX capacity of LOX will enable the NAF to increase its operational capacity.
  9. The Nigerian 7 Brigade Special Forces, 8 Task Force Division, engaged and killed six alleged Boko Haram militants in Dawashi Gari village bordering Lake Chad according to a Nigerian Army media release published on 11 July.
  10. On 16 July, the Nigerian Army announced that it would attack a key Boko Haram base on an island in Lake Chad, and claimed that the attack would represent a critical milestone in defeating the insurgency. The Nigerian Army has not provided an update on this operation.
  11. On 21 July, the Nigerian Army acting as part of Operational Lafiya Dole conducted a counter-attack in Ngala after Boko Haram militants launched a small attack on a remote forward operating base. According to statements from the army, a captured militant reported that eight Boko Haram fighters were killed in the army’s counter-attack.
  12. Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, has directed the commander of Operation Lafiya Dole to capture Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau within 40 days. The directive was publicly reported on 21 July, and comes after Shekau appeared in a video taking responsibility for an attack on a police and military convoy on 20 June near Maiduguri. On 5 August, Nigeria’s vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo, also directed the Nigerian military and intelligence services to rescue the women abducted during the convoy attack and shown in the video. Osinbajo also suggested publically that the 113 remaining Chibok schoolgirls held captive by Boko Haram would be rescued. The Nigerian government’s strategy of breaking Boko Haram through decapitation strikes is undermined by the argument put forward by the UN special representative for West Africa and the Sahel, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, and others that ongoing human insecurity, poverty and corruption will allow Boko Haram to regenerate.
  13. On 23 July, Kano State Police Command arrested five suspected Boko Haram militants planning attacks on civilian targets.
  14. The Nigerian vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo, received a delegation from the African Union’s Peace and Security Council (AU PSC) on 28 July. The AU PSC had spent the previous five weeks visiting Lake Chad Basin countries to assess the humanitarian challenges faced in the aftermath of considerable social and economic destruction by Boko Haram.
  15. The Nigerian Air Force issued a press release on 30 July announcing that NAF special forces and Nigerian Army troops were increasing their presence in northeastern Nigeria to try and reduce the number of suicide attacks on civilian targets. The release noted that ground forces are supported by continual ISR campaigns by the air force, which is using thermal imaging technology to identify Boko Haram positions and camps. However, the NAF’s ISR capabilities may become less relevant as Boko Haram moves from larger-scale swarm attacks to overrun hardened targets, such as police stations and military bases, to kidnappings and suicide attacks against soft targets, such as IDP camps, universities and villages. This shift in tactics is likely what has driven the Nigerian Army to openly call for human intelligence sources on Boko Haram activities. Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Olonisakin, told a meeting of defence chiefs at the UN headquarters in New York on 9 July that as the fight against Boko Haram was changing, Nigeria’s law enforcement agencies and military need to look at human intelligence sources and de-radicalisation programmes to mitigate the recent increase in suicide attacks.

Boko Haram

  1. Suspected Boko Haram fighters attacked a village in Kablewa near the city of Diffa in southeastern Niger on 2 July, killing nine people and abducting more than 40 others. The militants rode into the village on horses and camels, and likely returned across the Nigerian border with their captives after the attack.
  2. On 7 July, three Boko Haram fighters launched a suicide attack on the University of Maiduguri in Borno State, Nigeria. Two of the militants detonated their IEDs, and the third was shot and killed by campus security. There were no other casualties. The university has recently attempted to improve security by digging a trench along the boundary of the campus.
  3. Suspected Boko Haram fighters launched a series of coordinated attacks on the outskirts of Maiduguri on 11 July. The attackers targeted CJTF personnel, killing 12 CJTF fighters and seven civilians.
  4. On 13 July, two suspected Boko Haram suicide bombers launched attacks that killed 13 Cameroon civilians and injured 40 others in an attack in Waza, a Cameroonian border town near Nigeria. One of the bombers is thought to have been heading towards the Rapid Intervention Battalion camp near Waza.
  5. On 15 July, suspected Boko Haram fighters reportedly forcefully strapped an IED to a 10-year-old boy as he took cattle out for grazing near Dalti village in Jere local government area in Borno State. The fighters then remotely detonated the bomb when the boy returned home, killing the boy and injuring his brother.
  6. On 17 July, a suspected female Boko Haram suicide bomber killed 10 people attending a mosque for morning prayer in the London Ciki Area of Maiduguri in northeastern Nigeria. CJTF guards killed two other suspected bombers during the attack.
  7. Boko Haram militants wearing military uniforms killed the commander of the Hunters Association of Adamawa State, Bukar Jimeta, and three of his men on 22 July. Reports suggest that Jimeta and his men were trying to repel a Boko Haram attack on a village in Dagu in northeastern Nigeria when they were ambushed. The hunting associations have been targeting Boko Haram fighters in Sambisa Forest, with some hunters employed on an ad hoc basis by the army or local government.
  8. On 25 July, Boko Haram militants attacked an armed convoy of oil workers completing exploration work in Nigeria’s Lake Chad Basin area. The convoy was made up of Nigerian soldiers, CJTF volunteers, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation representatives and geologists from the University of Maiduguri. It was ambushed near Jibi village, situated between Magumeri and Gubio local government area in Borno State. The attackers reportedly killed 48 people and kidnapped 10 others. On 28 July, Boko Haram released a video of three of the captives, two of which are lecturers from the University of Maiduguri’s geology department and the other a university driver.
  9. Boko Haram released a video on 1 August showing the group’s fighters living in Sambisa Forest in Borno State, Nigeria. The video is likely intended to demonstrate that the militant group still holds territory in the area and to bring into question the Nigerian government’s claims that the insurgency has been defeated.