Nigeria has been in mourning since Saturday when news broke that Muhammad Abu-Ali, a lieutenant colonel, and Nigerian Army’s most efficient fighter died in battle alongside five soldiers during an exchange of battle with the terrorist Boko Haram.
Military insiders said the Army has launched an inquiry into the circumstances that led to the death of the country’s bravest commander and five of his troops.
But a top military officer with deep knowledge of the North-East operation has granted PREMIUM TIMES an exclusive interview detailing how the officer and his soldiers fell and why more and more soldiers were being killed by Boko Haram in recent times. The officer requested anonymity because he had no permission to discuss operational matters with the media.
Thank you very much officer for agreeing to talk to us. We are sorry to hear of the death of Lt. Col. Abu Ali, a gallant and brave officer who gave his all to his country. We also learnt that he was killed alongside some soldiers. What really happened?
What happened was that Boko Haram terrorists ambushed our troops on Friday night at Mallam Fatori. Lt Col Abu Ali was killed on his way to reinforce troops there.
Information available reveals that one officer and 49 soldiers were withdrawn from Mallam Fatori on Friday morning and Boko Haram attacked at night indicating they possibly had advance information of the troops reduction in number.
Six soldiers and 14 Boko Haram terrorists were killed alongside Lt Col Abu-Ali, who was granted special promotion in 2014 for his gallantry in the fight against Boko Haram.
There is great mourning across the theatre of operations. Everyone is in mourning mood. May God grant the senior officer Aljanat Firdaus.
But why are attacks and killing of Nigerian troops becoming rampant in the past weeks?
It is sad that the Nigerian Army is announcing that the attacks are being carried out by remnants of Boko Haram terrorists when all reasonable persons can see that Boko Haram is still a formidable force. The Nigerian Army is more concerned with pleasing the political class while the grassroots people are still suffering.
It is the duty of the Nigerian Army public relations department to make the Nigerian Army look good but it is also necessary for the Nigerian Army to take practical steps to end this insurgency by improving the equipment state of the Nigerian Army and telling the government the true state of affairs.
What is the true state of affairs?
The truth is that from September to November this year, we have lost so many troops that can’t even be accounted for.
Prominent amongst those lost are Maj DS Erasmus and 8 soldiers – 25 Sep 2016 due to IED / ambush along Bama – Banki road. Lt Col K Yusuf and 83 soldiers missing in action on 16 Oct 2016 when Boko Haram attacked troops location at Gashigar. Lt Col M Abu-Ali and five soldiers were killed on 4 November 2016 on their way to reinforce troops at Mallam Fatori during Boko Haram attack.
On 5 November 2016, two soldiers were killed at Kwada during Boko Haram attack on troops location. One soldier was wounded while another two were declared missing in action.
In another attack in Kangarwa on 6 November, one soldier was killed while four other soldiers were wounded in action. Thirteen Boko Haram terrorists were killed and unconfirmed number of them was wounded.
Why are attacks on troops becoming more and more regular?
It’s dry season here and the ground allows smooth movement of vehicles. Boko Haram terrorists have a better knowledge of the local terrain so they can easily access troops location and escape.
Furthermore, there’s pressure on Boko Haram terrorists around Sambisa general area hence they seem to have pooled forces together to concentrate on the northern Borno axis.
So what can Nigerian authorities do to reduce casualties on the side of Nigerian troops?
The major cause of casualties on troops at the moment is poor equipment state. At the moment, the equipment in the theatre are mostly worn out and almost obsolete. Provision of adequate equipment is the only answer for now. Troops confidence is a function of sound and functional equipment.
Remember that man without equipment is at best inefficient and machines without man are almost useless. This points to the need for adequate equipment in the theatre to minimize casualty rate in the theatre.
What kinds of equipment are obsolete, and what kinds are needed at this time?
The tanks (especially Vickers MBT) in the theatre are so worn out that they often do not get to action most times troops are under attack. This is why the semi-serviceable T-72 tanks are being moved everywhere in the theatre. This explains why Lt Col Abu-Ali was almost everywhere there was threat as he commanded the T-72 tank Battalion.
The artillery Shilka guns are even the worst. Boko Haram terrorists fear the effect of Shilka guns but I still wonder why almost all Shilkas are not serviceable in the theatre.
Even more worrisome is the fact that the Nigerian Army has not procured more Shilka guns because they are Russian made and the bottleneck to buy them is not too much like those of Western countries.
But the impression being created is that troops are better off now in terms of equipment than under Jonathan
Unfortunately, for every battle we engage in, the equipment keep wearing and to worsen issues, these equipment were not procured with their fast-moving spare parts. The big question is, how many equipment has the present government procured and where are they deployed for use?
So does it mean troops are using just AK 47 to fight Boko Haram?
That’s our personal assault rifle, which is needed after long range weapons have done much of the job but unfortunately the long range support weapons are inadequate. Eg AA GUNS, mortar tubes, artillery weapons like shilka guns etc.
So how did we achieve the initial upper hand, cutting down Boko Haram down and capturing territories from the terrorists?
The upper hand started in February 2015 due to the arrival of T-72 tanks in the theatre. Chadian troops also assisted in mounting pressure on Boko Haram terrorists at the same time. This resulted in Boko Haram splitting their forces to several places at the same time.
So how did we lose the plot?
Recall that there were mercenaries that fought with Nigerian Army troops in the first and second quarters of 2015.
Boko Haram seems to have good strategist who study our modus operandi and cause them to adjust accordingly. The Nigerian military may need to reappraise its approach to counter insurgency operations.
Those mercenaries really assisted us and their withdrawal signalled the gradual regrouping of Boko Haram terrorists. This is because their withdrawal was sudden and not in phases.
But why was their withdrawal sudden?
The new government terminated their contract.
What did the mercenaries bring to the table that our troops lack?
They came with armoured fighting equipment. Above all, they had night fighting capabilities.
Do you have any further information on the attack that killed Lt. Col. Abu Ali? Especially about attack coming after withdrawal of some personnel.
There is a plan by the authorities to carry out an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding his death. He’s to be buried by 5pm today (Monday) at the national cemetery.
But why were the men withdrawn?
They were to carry out attack elsewhere in the theatre. The only controversy is why they were suddenly forced to withdraw that fateful day.
Is it not standard practice to have replacement on location before pushing men elsewhere?
It is, but exigencies of duty make us to do things haphazardly at times.
Thank you very much for talking to us.
Thank you too.