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Monthly intelligence briefing on the Boko Haram insurgency: June 2017

by Scott Hickie and Matthew Clarke

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This is the third 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 Abuja-based NGO Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) published a report in late May on establishing a post-insurgency restorative justice and de-radicalisation framework. The report, Prospect for Transitional Justice Initiative in the North-East Nigeria, argues that the reintegration of Boko Haram fighters into communities would create challenges for the victims of the militant group. Based on interviews with communities in Yobe and Borno states, CDD cautions the Nigerian government against providing an unconditional amnesty to former Boko Haram fighters, with over 50% of interviewees refusing to live in communities with former militants.
  2. On 15 June, Amnesty International reiterated its call for an independent, impartial and transparent investigation of senior Nigerian military commanders. Amnesty had named the commanders in a 2015 report into human rights violations and extrajudicial killings by the Nigerian military during its campaigns against Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria. Amnesty’s call came after a Nigerian military panel found no evidence of war crimes or human rights violations by the officers Amnesty had named in its report. The Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, committed to reviewing the Amnesty report on social media in June 2015 shortly after winning the election on an anti-corruption and good governance platform. The military investigation and findings would likely assist the Nigerian government in any renegotiation of military co-operation agreements with key Western partners who have expressed concerns about the human rights situation or made military assistance conditional on accountability and transparency mechanisms.
  3. Starting on 16 June, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) distributed agricultural inputs, such as important seed varieties, to IDP farmers in northeast Nigeria as a way to address food security challenges. Belgium, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States, the European Commission and the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) contributed to programme support. The distribution focused on farmers in towns newly liberated from Boko Haram.
  4. On 27 June, the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, condemned Boko Haram’s attacks on Maiduguri on 25 and 26 June and reiterated the United Nations’ support for the Nigerian government’s fight against Boko Haram.
  5. On 29 June, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) called on the Nigerian and Cameroonian governments to halt the involuntary return of refugees. In late June, security forces from Nigeria and Cameroon allegedly forcibly returned an estimated 887 Nigerian refugees to Banki in northeast Nigeria. Cameroon’s Ministry of External Relations rejected the UNHCR’s allegations of forced returns. The UNHCR urged the parties to convene a meeting of the Tripartite Commission in order to establish a voluntary return process. The premature return of Nigerian refugees who fled Boko Haram is likely to create adverse security conditions in newly-liberated towns in Nigeria’s northeast, provide new soft targets for Boko Haram and complicate counter-terrorism operations by increasing the risk of civilian casualties.

International partners

  1. The Nigerian minister of foreign affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, visited Russia on 1 June for bilateral talks on economic development and military co-operation. Onyeama told media that Nigeria was negotiating the purchase of Russian military hardware, including helicopters, to aid Nigerian military operations against Boko Haram. Onyeama also highlighted the importance of Russian intelligence sharing and Russia’s potential role as a bulwark in the UN Security Council against any budget cuts to UN peacekeeping missions in Africa. In January, the Nigerian government received two of the multirole Mi-35M (Hind) attack helicopters it purchased from Russian Helicopters in September 2015. The new round of negotiations may include the delivery schedule for the remaining 10 Mi-35Ms Nigeria purchased as well as Russian military assistance to fit the helicopters into Nigeria’s combat conditions and requirements.
  2. Russian media reports suggest that Nigeria is purchasing 12 Su-30 fighter jets from the Moscow-based Sukhoi Company. Two of the $30 million aircraft have already been delivered. The Su-30 fighter jets would most likely be used by the Nigerian Air Force in air-to-ground operations against Boko Haram. The deal may help bypass the challenges Nigeria is experiencing in negotiations to purchase A-29 Super Tucano turbo-prop aircraft from the United States, which despite positive overtures from the White House, could be blocked by the US Congress.
  3. In response to the threat of famine in the Lake Chad Basin, the European Commission announced on 15 June a new humanitarian aid package for stabilisation, reconstruction and recovery in Borno State worth an estimated €143 million. The package announced by the Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Minica, includes funding for the reconstruction of critical infrastructure and support for the resettlement of communities displaced by Boko Haram. This package brings the total amount of aid funding pledged by the European Commission for 2017 to €224.5 million. Ongoing security challenges will make the operational delivery of aid in northeast Nigeria difficult. Through a spokesperson, Nigeria’s acting president, the vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo, has acknowledged that almost of the food aid assigned to the victims of Boko Haram in IDP camps in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states had gone missing and been misappropriated. In the statement, his spokesperson notes that substantial military and law enforcement resources are now assigned to protect food aid and distribution hubs.
  4. The United States has trained six units of non-commissioned officers from the Multi-Purpose Intervention Group of Cameroon’s National Gendarmerie. The 30 officers were trained to detect explosive devices and safely destroy them at a US military base in Jordan. The new bomb squads will be deployed against Boko Haram insurgents in the far north of the country. The training was acknowledged by the secretary of state to the minister of defence in charge of the National Gendarmerie, Jean Baptiste Bokam, during a ceremony at the 101 Military Air Base in Yaounde on 25 June. At the ceremony, the US ambassador to Cameroon, Michael S. Hoza, officially handed over 22 tons of equipment for the detection, transport and destruction of explosive devices.
  5. The US state department 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report released on 27 June suggests that there is evidence from credible observers that all parties to the conflict in northeast Nigeria, including government security forces, Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) groups and Boko Haram, are using children as young as 12 years old in military roles. The report also contains allegations that Nigerian police and military officials are involved in the widespread sexual exploitation of women and girls displaced by Boko Haram from Borno State. Global Amnesty Watch Foundation, an organisation that often criticises international NGO reports on Nigerian military human rights abuses, announced it would conduct its own investigations into the use of child soldiers. Despite the potential for improved relations between Abuja and Washington, evidence of the Nigerian armed forces using child soldiers may jeopardise US intelligence sharing, advise and assist missions and arms sales.

Regional coalitions and local governments

  1. On 21 May, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) deployed its newly-acquired Russian Mi-35M attack helicopters on an Operation Lafiya Dole intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) mission in Parisu, Borno State. The ISR mission identified high-value Boko Haram targets. On 22 May, Nigerian armed forces were deployed with the Mi-35Ms, as well as Mi-17 (Hip) helicopters, to strike the targets. The Mi-35Ms give the NAF enhanced capabilities for night-time counter-terrorism and ISR operations.
  2. The Borno command of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) deployed an additional 600 personnel to places of worship, commercial areas and the University of Maiduguri to protect life and property from attacks by Boko Haram during Ramadan. After repeat attacks on the University of Maiduguri, the governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, approved ₦50 million to dig trenches around the university to improve security, reduce suicide attacks and limit unauthorised vehicle access to the university.
  3. Nigerian politicians and military personnel cannot reach a consensus on the status of Boko Haram’s organisational capabilities and resilience. At the signing of a memorandum of understanding in Abuja on 28 May, the governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, openly contradicted claims by the Nigerian government that Boko Haram has been defeated. Days later, the outgoing commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, Major General Leo Irabor, disagreed with Shettima and argued that Boko Haram has been defeated based on the fact the group no longer held local government area (LGA) territory and no longer possess centralised logistics hubs. At a passing out parade at Nigerian Army School of Infantry on 3 June, the Nigerian defence minister, Mansur Dan-Ali, further observed that the Nigerian military is consolidating gains against Boko Haram. The difference of opinion suggests that provincial governors in northeast Nigeria do not believe that reconstruction can begin until all Boko Haram attacks cease, whereas the military are currently focussed on denying Boko Haram territory and resources.
  4. Between 7 and 9 June, the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Nigerian Army intercepted and arrested suspected Boko Haram militants moving away from Nigeria’s northeast into Kaduna State in the northwest of the country, approximately 200 km north of Abuja. The joint operation was triggered by concerns that Boko Haram was targeting its kidnapping activities along the Abuja-Kaduna highway as the militant group was pushed out of its former strongholds in northeastern Nigeria.
  5. Under the auspice of Operation Lafiya Dole, the Nigerian Army and the local CJTF conducted an attack on suspected Boko Haram militants near Jarawa village in Kala Balge LGA, Borno State, on 11 June. The army reported that Abu Nazir, the Boko Haram Emir in Jarawa, was killed in the operation together with an estimated 15 other militants. The army reportedly released abducted children and secured various weaponry.
  6. The Nigerian Army arrested 24 suspected Boko Haram militants in Edo State in southern Nigeria on 12 June. The suspects were allegedly posing as herdsmen, and were likely captured with the support of local civilian groups, hunters and other human intelligence sources.
  7. On 19 June, the Cameroonian military advised that it had arrested up to 30 of it soldiers deployed to the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF). The soldiers had erected barricades on the Cameroon-Nigeria border in early June in protest at poor pay and working conditions. They argue that they are not paid the same allowances as colleagues working on UN peacekeeping missions in the Central African Republic.
  8. Nigeria’s Department of State Services (DSS) advised on 23 June that it had uncovered a plot by three militants to carry out attacks in Kano, Kaduna, Sokoto and Maiduguri during the Eid-el-Fitr celebrations. The DSS arrested the unnamed militants and recovered a substantial weapons cache. It noted that the suspects had intended to use the non-violent political and religious organisation the Islamic Movement of Nigeria as cover for their activities. Two days later, on 25 June, the DSS advised that it had disrupted a similar plot for Eid-el-Fitr attacks led by a Boko Haram commander and upwards of 30 militants. In response, the DSS placed restrictions on vehicle movements until the Eid-el-Fitr celebrations were over.
  9. Chadian soldiers operating under the MNJTF banner clashed with suspected Boko Haram militants on the 24 and 25 June on five islands near Lake Chad. Chadian Army sources claimed that 162 Boko Haram militants and eight soldiers were killed in the fighting. The clash highlights concerns that Boko Haram continues to exploit gaps in regional coordination and use the border regions near Lake Chad. Meanwhile, Cameroon’s defence minister visited the country’s border with Nigeria after a spike in suicide bomb attacks (15 in total) in border regions, such as Mora and Kolofata, towards the end of Ramadan.

Boko Haram

  1. On 25 May, Boko Haram militants attacked a Cameroonian military post near the Nigerian border in a small town 30 km from Makary. Militants travelling in two pickup trucks killed the chief military officer and set fire to the post.
  2. On 28 May, suspected Boko Haram militants attacked and killed seven civilians in Kaya, a village approximately 25 km from Chibok in Borno State. The militants reportedly set fire to the village and burned down homes. Two days later, Boko Haram militants launched a similar attack on Gumsiri village, reportedly killing 14 civilians. Due to the remoteness of the villages, responding military forces are often too late to intervene, which makes them a soft target for Boko Haram.
  3. Boko Haram killed five people (IDPs) in Konduga LGA on 29 May.
  4. Boko Haram fighters attacked a group containing an NGO worker from Caritas Nigeria in Borno State on 31 May. The fighters attacked the group as it returned to Maiduguri after completing food security and landmine awareness training in southern Borno. Three soldiers were reportedly killed in the attack.
  5. Boko Haram militants loyal to Abubakar Shekau launched a concerted attack on Maiduguri on 7 June ahead of a visit to the city by Nigeria’s acting president, Yemi Osinbajo. Militants initially attacked from the outskirts of the city with anti-aircraft guns and three coordinated attacks by suicide bombers before small groups attempted to move into the more-populated areas of Maiduguri. Media reports suggest that the attackers killed between 11 and 14 people. Law enforcement and military counter-terrorism units deployed to quell the fighting captured one Boko Haram fighter. The attack is one of the most significant in the last 18 months.
  6. There were four suicide bomb attacks in Kolofata in Cameroon’s far north region in 48 hours between 7 and 9 June. There were no casualties in the four attacks other than the bombers.
  7. Boko Haram militants attacked Gumsiri in Damboa LGA, Borno State, on 17 June in a second major offensive on the village. The militants overpowered CJTF fighters and local herdsmen as the villagers were breaking their Ramadan fast. The Nigerian military could not attend the area quickly enough to prevent substantial casualties.
  8. On 20 June, Boko Haram militants ambushed an armed convoy of commercial, private and government vehicles travelling from Maiduguri to southern Borno State via Damboa along the Maiduguri-Biu federal highway. The militants killed three convoy personnel, stole a truck carrying health and medical goods and kidnapped an estimated 16 women. A provincial politician who witnessed the attack was critical of the convoy planning, suggesting that the police and security staff were ill prepared for the attack despite the known risks.
  9. Suicide bombers killed 16 people in coordinated attacks on the university and Zannari Community in Maiduguri on 25 June.
  10. A video released by Boko Haram on 25 June shows the group’s leader Abubakar Shekau criticising the Nigerian military and modern Islamic clerics and identifying approximately 10 female police officers that Boko Haram had abducted during a raid on a joint police-military convoy near Maiduguri on 20 June.
  11. A roadside IED thought to have been planted by Boko Haram militants killed four Nigerian soldiers from the 133 Special Forces Battalion on 29 June. Their patrol vehicle triggered the IED on the road between Kangarwa and Alagarno village. After the explosion, soldiers pursued and killed the three militants who planted the IED.
  12. On 3 July, suspected Boko Haram militants killed nine people and kidnapped up to 30 from Ngalewa village in Niger, approximately 50 km north of the border with Nigeria.
  13. Boko Haram fighters are reportedly shifting from Sambisa Forest in Borno State to Bali Forest in Taraba State according to the governor of Taraba, Darius Dickson Ishaku, who informed the Nigerian Army of the development on 5 June. Pally Iriase, deputy chief whip in the house of representatives, has told parliament on 11 June that Boko Haram are also increasingly carrying out attacks and raids in northern Edo State.