Following the killing of 92 Chadian soldiers in a March 23 Boko Haram attack, the Chadian Army launched a major offensive that rattled the terror group, decimating its numbers and dislodging it from territories in the Lake Chad area, has the ground been set for a final push to end the insurgency and return thousands of displaced persons home?
The decisive onslaught launched by Chadian forces on Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists in the last few weeks heralded a significant phase in the 10-year-old terror war in the Lake Chad region. Since the insurgency began, the four countries in the Lake Chad region, Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon set up the Multinational Joint Task Force, which seems to have lacked the commitment to make the decisive push against the terror group, even within their respective borders.
The result is that the conflict has dragged on for years, resulting in loss of lives, property and loss of face for the various armies involved in the conflict.
Prior to the Chadian offensive, sources have argued that failed coordination among the MNJTF and in some cases laxity by some member states means the terrorists could take refuge in one country while attacking another. And to a large extent, it has been suggested they have enjoyed some leeway in Chad. But all that changed when in a daring raid on March 23, the terror group attacked Chadian troops stationed in Boma on the border with Nigeria and Niger, killing 92 soldiers and injuring many others.
The biggest losses in men the Chadian Army has suffered since the insurgency began. This provoked the wrath of Chadian President Idriss Deby who is commander in chief of the 30, 000-strong Chadian military. Deby, accompanied by the Commander of the MNJTF, headquartered in Ndjamena, the Capital of Chad, Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Manu Yusuf, flew to Niamey, Niger Republic, to confer with Nigeriene leader, Mahamadou Issouffou, over the need for the MNJTF to decisively descend on the terrorists before they do more damage in the region.
With the consent of the four countries, especially Niger and Nigeria, each of which has islands in the Lake Chad where most Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists take refuge, Deby, led 4000 troops on an air, ground and amphibious Operation Boma Anger to dislodge the terrorist from the islands. Following the commencement of the Chadian offensive, Boko Haram factional leader, Abubakar Shekau, released an audio on Wednesday morning urging his men to stand their grounds and not flee.
But they could not stop the Chadians from pursuing the insurgents out of Kukawa, Cross-Kauwa and several other locations on the largely desolate Nigerian side of the lake shores and as far into Borno State as Magumeri and Gudumbali. “Our objective is to clean up the entire islands (of the Lake Chad) area. We have the agreement of two other countries (Niger and Nigeria) and we currently have men in all of these countries,” the Chadian minister in charge of National Defence, Lieutenant General Mahamat Abali Salah, was reported to have said.
This claim was also reportedly echoed by spokesman for the Chadian military, Col. Azem Banadua Aguna, who said that by 31st March, under the command of Idriss Deby, Chadian forces had cleared the fringes of Lake Chad as well as all the islands on the lake both on the Nigerian and Nigerien sides of all terrorists.
However, the military and political implications of this development, and criticism that Chad is fighting Nigeria’s war compelled the Nigerian Army Acting Director of Public Relations, Col Sagir Musa to deny the presence of Chadian troops on Nigerian terrain.
“Nigerian Army wishes to state that there are no Chadian or any other foreign country’s troops on the Nigerian side of the Lake Chad or in any other part of the Nigerian territory,” Col Musa said in a statement. “As a responsible organisation, the Nigerian Army finds it necessary to clear the wrong impression or misinformation for history and posterity as well as to avoid spreading falsehood and mischievous publications,” he said.
He insisted that the Chadian operations on their side of the border was with the knowledge and support of Nigerian troops as the two countries have been working together in the MNJTF. This is why sources within the military insist that the success of the Chadian offensive is a joint effort. “With the MNJTF exercising higher authority, Chad couldn’t have fought alone,” a top Nigerian Army official told Daily Trust in Maiduguri.
He insisted that Nigeria is commanding the MNJTF and Chad could not go it alone. “It is a major victory, not only for Chad, but for the entire Chad Basin countries,” Professor Ibrahim Maina Waziri, Director of the Center for Trans-Saharan Studies, University of Maiduguri, said. “We (the four Chad-Basin countries) have for long been taking this thing (terror war) lightly,” he said, “the problem is that they (terrorists) have not been dealt with by the military before as the Chadian just did.”
He however insists that the real victory is not for Chad alone but for the entire West African sub region and the countries should genuinely strategize and clear out the remaining insurgents in the region. Before turning attention to tackling the ideology of the sect. “Winning the war against terrorism is achieved with the weapons of de-radicalization, reintegration and extensive and intensive social research to find out what went awry that facilitated the emergence of terrorism and nipping all future problems in the bud; this should be followed by the restoration of civil authority,” he said. Only after this, he argued, could the relocation of displaced persons to their homes be accomplished.
A security expert in Maiduguri, who does not want his name in print, shared a similar view. “The loss of 100 soldiers was a big blow to Chad,” he said, because “Chad is a small country.” However, he is pleased by the implication of the Chadian offensive.
“The Chadian victory is good for Nigeria, and it is a victory for the entire Chad-Basin countries; it is a good development that the Chadians pursued the terrorists into Nigeria. “It is heart-warming to hear that the Chadians seized a massive quantity of the terrorists’ weapons, which implies that the terrorist have