by Fulan Nasrullah; first published August 11th
On 11th August 2015, Aljazeera and other news agencies (local and foreign) reported that that a female suicide bomber exploded herself inside Sabon Gari Market in Maiduguri the capital of wartorn Borno State, killing at least 47 people and wounding at least a further 52 persons. One thing to note is that casualty figures quoted from scenes of such attacks in North Easter Nigeria are usually just estimates, as what you usually find after explosions in crowded places as just body parts, most of which are unidentifiable. So casualty figures given by emergency responders in Nigeria at bomb sites, should be taken with this caveat in mind. They may be higher or lower, no real way of knowing.
I titled this SITREP “NEW BEGININGS” to further elucidate on my last SITREP. There is no denying that on the ground, the insurgent forces are being decimated in conventional battles, a fact which seems to have done a whole lot in reducing the testosterone levels of insurgent field commanders who no longer boast about capturing Maiduguri or expanding their war southwards, rather across all lines of the insurgent divide, there has been a realization that if they face a motivated, equiped Nigerian Army, backed by hundreds of South African and Sudanese mercenaries, Chadian battalions and French Special Forces coupled with electronic intelligence assistance provided by the US, there is no way in hell come rain or shine that the insurgents have any hope of winning a conventional war. Within the two main surviving factions, there is a growing realization that trying to fight the Nigerian Army like the Nigerian Army, is not a very good idea.
Some old-school hardliners along with the new military advisors from Islamic State are as I have been informed, campaigning hard for a strategy of urban terror, guerrilla warfare and making the roads unsafe, basically a repeat of the tactics used by the organization that is now known as Islamic State’s during its 11 year campaign to destabilize, take control and then create a state controlled by it in Iraq.
On the side of the Khalid Al-Barnawi’s group, the same strategy I have also been told, is being advocated by some senior commanders who were opportuned to have fought in Libya during the 90’s and in Iraq during the Insurgency there. They believe the previous strategy of seizing territory, increasing the ranks to be able to conventionally engage and defeat the Cameroonians and engage the Nigerians and Chadians in a long protracted war is not feasible anymore, given that they are having to sacrifice experienced fighters in combat with stronger Chadian forces, while still losing territory, and the new conscripted units are only good to be used as cannon folder and thus cannot serve as replacements for the veteran fighters being lost.
Already I believe the initial foundations of this line of campaign is set up by the insurgents, not because this strategy has been accepted, but because they have no choice if they ever wish to be able to recoup the heavy losses they are taking in the conventional war space.
Since the announcement of Operation Zaman Lafiya Dole, the better organized group of Khalid Al-Barnawi has been carrying out constant bomb attacks involving female suicide bombers across North Eastern Nigeria and Chad. The Islamic State Of West Africa has attempted to do the same, but the handlers of its female suicide bombers are suffering from a lack of training, experience and organization, leading to several botched-up missions foiled by the Nigerian Army, foiled attacks which surprisingly or unsurprisingly have not been announced by the authorities for reasons best known to them. This serious handicap has left the Islamic State Of West Africa- Shekau Sector, to focus their efforts at raiding villages at night and massacring civilians in a bid to strike fear into the hearts of the people, display their relevance and project an air of invincibility while taunting the military and the coalition forces. They have been able to do this as their forces take advantage of the swamps on the Lake Chad shore area, the various hilly/mountainous areas on the approaches from Maiduguri to Cameroon and the Lake Chad, using this terrain to hide out, launch quick attacks on undefended towns and withdraw back to their hideouts.
The group of Khalid Al-Barnawi has practically melted underground, large assemblies of fighters are prohibited, many units have broken down into cells as little as four/five men with their wives and kids and have according to what I have been told infiltrated into urban areas by hiding amongst the hundreds of thousands of IDPs. Smaller teams have moved into the mountains that line the Nigeria-Cameroon border in Adamawa, moving into caves and other features that are basically inaccessible, and I believe that probably this may like be where the senior leadership have hidden.
One may postulate that the most dangerous group long term is the group of Khalid Al-Barnawi. They are highly experienced in combat especially this type of warfare, as many of them fought in Sudan during the war against the South Sudanese, Darfur etc, many also fought in Chad’s wars, some fought during the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group insurgency in Gaddafi’s Libya, several senior commanders are said to be veterans of Bin Ladin’s training academies in Sudan and in Somalia, quite a few fought with AQIM in Algeria, while some elderly fighters have experience in the war in Afghanistan, both the war Al-Qaeda waged against the Northern Alliance on behalf of the Taliban, and the post 9/11 Afghan War. Add to that a few Iraq Insurgency veterans, and you have a small but experienced group, unlike Shekau’s group made up mostly of religious students, conscripts and mercenaries. Another thing about the group of Al-Barnawi is their hatred for open display and propaganda. They seek to win the war without announcing it, unlike Shekau’s people who seem to love the camera lens.
Al-Barnawi’s group adopted this mediaphobic approach, to disorient their enemies and keep them guessing on the true strengths and capabilities they have. This strategy has worked has the rate of penetration of this group by external spies has been incredibly low unlike Shekau’s organization that is well penetrated by Cameroonian and Chadian Intelligence.
Their ability to maintain operational security, plot and operate in the shadows and pursue their goals without media distraction, has of course maintained cohesion and strengthened discipline, which is probably the most important tool they need to maintain this war for as long as possible. That cohesion, discipline, operational security and extreme secrecy has enabled them to preserve their leaders, maintain their embedded cells in urban areas and areas outside the current theatre, maintain financial and logistics pipelines, thus ultimately preserving their strength. This has served them well, as they have become an enemy the countries around Lake Chad all want to kill, but unlike Shekau’s group, they can barely find them.
New sect leader Muhammad Daud is featured image