By Ola Balogun
Applying time tested military strategies to the task of defeating Boko Haram. Given the recent spate of aggressive military actions and atrocities that have been carried out with virtual impunity by the Boko Haram insurgents, it has become even more urgent than ever before to propose strategies and tactics that need to be employed by the country’s leadership to ensure that the fight against Boko Haram is brought to a swift and victorious conclusion.
In doing this, we need to bear in mind the fact that fundamentally, the successful pursuit of warfare requires a systematic approach that leaves as little as possible to chance. Why would it be justified for a civilian to make suggestions in the area of military strategy?
This is because it is not only those entrusted with the responsibility for waging war who should take a direct interest in how military operations are to be conducted. Major wars that can lead to the survival or the total collapse of a state should also be of interest to all citizens of the state.
It should be noted that as far back as the fifth century BC, the outstanding Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu drew attention to this fact in his famous treatise entitled ‘The Art of War’
“The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected ”
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Therefore, if we are serious about defeating Boko Haram and eradicating this scourge from Nigeria once and for all, it is imperative that we examine all relevant suggestions that can achieve this crucial objective. It is with this goal in view that the author of the present article wishes to suggest the implementation of a series of actions along the following lines:
Step one: Get to know the adversary! Information is a key component of warfare! We should take immediate steps to ensure that we know WHO it is we are actually fighting. With this objective in view, we need to mobilize all the technological and human intelligence mechanisms available to us to that end.
What are the identities and habits of the leaders of Boko Haram, and why are they fighting us?
The fact that the Federal Government has erroneously claimed on a number of occasions that the main Boko Haram leader Shekau has been killed, only for him to reappear shortly thereafter, would seem to suggest that we do not really know the fellow’s identity and modus operandi. That is simply not acceptable!
Among other things, we need to insert spies posing as recruits in the Boko Haram camps, and we should also make extensive use of turncoat ex-Boko Haram fighters whom we would subsequently send back into Sambisa forest to gather intelligence and lay traps for the Boko Haram leaders.
This was a technique that was widely utilised by the British in Kenya against the Dedan Kimathi-led Land and Freedom Army (falsely termed ‘Mau Mau’ by the British imperialists), as well as by the French against the Armée de Libération Nationale (F.L.N.) in Algeria.
We must also ensure that we become thoroughly conversant with the identity, ethnic background and motives of the rank and file Boko Haram fighters, since mercenary soldiers and coerced recruits behave very differently from hard core fanatical adherents of a cause.
Given the fact that the motivation and behaviour of these separate categories of adversaries are quite different, it follows that each different category of soldiers in the opposing camp needs to be treated differently on the battlefield, in order to secure the best results.
For instance, mercenaries fight solely for financial profit, so they are bent on remaining alive in order to be able to benefit from the fees they are receiving. As a result, they are mostly disinclined to expose themselves to any serious danger.
Thus, during the Nigeria/Biafra civil war, the Nigerian soldiers were specifically instructed to target and ruthlessly eliminate any white mercenary soldiers they found fighting on the Biafran side. This judicious policy soon produced the desired result: Rather than run the risk of being seriously wounded or killed, the foreign mercenaries led by Rudolf Steiner quickly collected the balance of their pay and fled back to Europe in great haste!
In similar manner, reluctant conscripts who have been dragged to the battlefront and forced to fight when their own free will is not involved can easily be made to drop their weapons and run away! It is therefore very important for us to find out WHO the Boko Haram fighters actually are, where they come from, and what motivates them, so that we can deal appropriately with each separate category of the Boko Haram combatants.
Conversely, we must take every possible precaution to keep our battle plans secret, the more so as it would appear that there have been serious leaks from within the ranks of the Nigerian Armed Forces in the past, leading to huge casualties on our side as a result of well planned ambushes by Boko Haram. This kind of disastrous outcome MUST be avoided at all costs!
Step two: Applying psychological tactics judiciously. We must endeavour to win as many battles as possible without actually engaging in physical combat, as the Chinese military strategist Sun Dzu so wisely counselled in his famous military treatise entitled: “The art of war”.
What this means in practice is that every possible form of psychological pressure should be deployed against the Boko Haram fighters, including offers of reward calculated to demoralise them and make them want to defect from their own side.
Our psychological tactics should also include feeding the opposing forces with exaggerated information about the size and fighting capacity of the forces that we have deployed against them. Most importantly also, our opponents should, wherever necessary, be terrorised into fearing to confront us on the battlefield once they see or hear of the ruthless manner in which we have eliminated the enemy communities and military units that stand in our path.
This was the ultimate purpose of the scorched earth tactics that were so successfully employed by the great Mongol Emperor Genghis Khan and his soldiers to strike fear into the hearts of their opponents ahead of each battle! Similarly, during the course of the colonial conquest of Nigeria, the British officers unleashed wild and bloodthirsty soldiers they had recruited from remote hinterland tribes to burn, kill, rape and terrorise the people of Nigeria on a massive scale before marching into battle against our fighting units in various localities.
While one would not advocate engaging in the kind of war crimes that the British, French and German invaders engaged in systematically during the “pacification” phase of the colonial conquest of Africa, it must be made abundantly clear to the Boko Harram combatants and their civilian supporters and accomplices that the Federal Government is out to crush them completely, and that we will show no mercy whatsoever to those caught holding weapons or reasonably suspected of belonging to Boko Haram fighting units.
It is therefore imperative that captured Boko Haram fighters should immediately be executed in order to strike fear into the others, irrespective of the hypocritical shouts of the so-called Western humanitarian agencies.
War is a very terrible business that is not meant for boy scout behaviour!
From this perspective, it should be noted that the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo (who served as Federal Commissioner for Finance and Vice-Chairman of the Federal Executive Council during the Nigeria/Biafra civil war) was right to have insisted on enforcing a blockade of the secessionist territory aimed at starving the Biafran side into submission.
The Federal Government was also absolutely right to have ignored the cleverly orchestrated cries of the so-called Western European and American “humanitarian” organisations denouncing an alleged “genocide”.
The fact of the matter is that the Western European and American Governments have never had any qualms about engaging in wholesale bombing campaigns against innocent Third World civilian populations, so who are they to preach morality in warfare to others?
The catalogue of atrocities perpetrated by Western European and American armies against peaceful civilian populations in recent times is too long to be described in detail! Let us simply recall the indiscriminate and widespread use of poison gas and aerial bombardment against innocent by the Italian fascist armies in Ethiopia on the eve of the Second World War. How about the French in Vietnam, in Madagascar and in Cameroun following the Second World War? How about the British in Malaya and Kenya?
How about the Americans in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, where the widespread use of terror bombing campaigns was exacerbated by the deliberate use of chemical defoliants like Agent Orange to destroy millions of acres of vegetation and poison all living beings in the targeted areas?
We are not supposed to emulate the atrocious war crimes that have been perpetrated over time by successive Western European and U.S. Governments and Armed Forces, but we should not allow ourselves to be browbeaten by fake “humanitarian” agencies into attempting to adopt a pussyfooting approach in our fight against Boko Haram.
Indeed, given the mortal danger posed to the Nigerian nation by the Boko Haram insurgency, we would be absolutely justified in operating with utmost ruthlessness against Boko Haram fighting forces, since we are now fighting for our very survival as a nation.
Whatever be the case, the Europeans and Americans are in no position to preach sanctimonious sermons to us about gentlemanly behaviour on the battlefield. – It has been abundantly documented that the elected leaders of most of these nations have deliberately authorized their Armed Forces to commit some of the most atrocious war crimes ever recorded in the history of mankind in the course of fighting Third World military insurgencies, so they should please spare us their empty “humanitarian” sermons!
Step three: Deploying all available manpower for military purposes.
Obviously, we need to mobilize adequate fighting units in order to ensure that the Federal troops benefit from having overwhelming numerical superiority whenever and wherever they are to face Boko Haram fighters.
(According to a majority of military experts, the recommended ratio between orthodox troops and guerrilla forces is ten to one!) Based on this requirement, the Nigerian Armed Forces MUST train, motivate and deploy the best available soldiers currently enrolled in the army for the fight against Boko Haram in massive numbers.
In this connection, it is highly significant that the Governor of Borno State, Mr. Babagana Zulum, while exchanging views with the Defence Committee of the House of Representatives in Maiduguri on February 19, 2020, called for the Nigerian army to recruit at least 100,000 additional soldiers in order to successfully prosecute the war against Boko Haram.
Although the current total strength of the Nigerian army has not been publicly disclosed, it is estimated that fewer than 40,000 soldiers have actually been deployed to the Boko Haram battlefront.
The question that then arises is: What proportion of the total available manpower in the Nigerian army does this represent? Unfortunately, the information that is currently available from a number of well informed sources is that the bulk of the Nigerian Armed Forces have so far NOT been deployed to fight on the Boko Haram battlefront.
It would appear that both under the Jonathan Administration and the present Administration, the best Nigerian troops and heavy weapons are being kept in various strategic locations that are not remotely connected with the fight against Boko Haram, simply for the purpose of guarding the country’s rulers against the threat of real or imaginary coup d’états.
If this information is correct, the authors of such short-sighted policies must be roundly condemned! The Boko Haram insurgency represents an existential threat to the Nigerian nation, and so the fight against Boko Haram must be handled as the number one priority when it comes to deployment of our armed forces. Any other approach is bound to be both counter-productive and self-defeating!
Among other things, those who have decided to focus on the threat of internal coup d’états to the detriment of the fight against Boko Haram would do well to remember that part of the reason for Mobutu Sese-Seko’s precipitate downfall was that he wilfully chose to concentrate his best troops in Kinshasa in a bid to protect his regime from the menace of potential coup d’états, thus ignoring the invading forces that were heading into the Congo from the border with Rwanda.
The end result was that the rebel forces marched virtually unimpeded into the Congolese heartland and subsequently overthrew Mobutu with great ease.Short-sighted policies of this kind almost always lead to disaster!
The fight against Boko Haram is essentially a conventional war, since the Boko Haram insurgents do not have high tech weaponry at their disposal. As such, the emphasis for the Nigerian army should lie in deploying manpower in overwhelming numbers against the Boko Haram fighters, so as to pursue them vigorously into their enclaves.
Even though it might be tempting for the Nigerian Government to succumb to the siren cries of American and Israeli arms merchants eager to sell us huge quantities of sophisticated weaponry at tremendous cost, we should bear in mind that no war has ever been won in recent times by relying exclusively on high tech weaponry and long-distance aerial bombardment.
The utter failure of the Saudi Arabian led coalition to make any appreciable progress in the on-going conflict in Yemen amply illustrates this point. A conventional war can definitely NOT be successfully fought without the deployment of sufficient boots on the ground!
In addition to arranging to retrain and deploy troops massively to the various Boko Haram battlegrounds, the Nigerian Armed forces will also need to be thoroughly reorganised and reduced in size through the elimination of misfits, poorly educated elements and sundry deadwood.
It is an open secret that the present day Nigerian army is largely structured along the same lines as the colonial era West African Frontier Force, which had a preponderance of mostly illiterate foot soldiers led by well trained and reasonably well-educated British officers.
Not much has changed since then. The white officers have now been replaced by Nigerians, but the bulk of the soldiers still consist of largely illiterate individuals who can neither read and understand army manuals nor be expected to read maps accurately.
This situation is wholly untenable! In the year 2020, we are fast approaching the end of the first quarter if the 21st century, so there can be no justification for having an army that is mostly made up of uneducated folks.
More importantly, both the officers and lower ranks of the present Nigerian army are sorely lacking in patriotic zeal, having mostly joined the army for career reasons. The choice of having a purely volunteer army therefore has to be examined afresh!
Is that really the best option for Nigeria? Most modern nations (including the U.S., Russia, China and the Western European countries) have traditionally stiffened their armed forces by conscripting young citizens for two or three year periods of military service and training, taking full cognisance of the fact that an individual who is fighting to protect his parents and children is likely to be more highly motivated in the battlefield than one who has merely joined the army to earn a salary.
It is also noteworthy that in many of the most successful nation-states of past eras, availability for military service was a pre-requisite condition for full access to citizenship rights. This was the case in Sparta, Athens, Rome, post-Meiji era Japan, revolutionary era France and Russia, as well as in the United States of America up till the Vietnam war.
For very good reason, this also remains so today in Israel, which considers itself to be a nation on permanent war footing.
The author of the present paper happens to have been privileged to collaborate with Dr. Ahmadu Ali (founder and pioneer Director-General of the National Youth Service scheme in Nigeria) during the setting up of the scheme, and is therefore in a position to testify that we envisaged and recommended that military training for our young men and women should form a core aspect of the National Youth Service scheme.
Unfortunately, this aspect of our proposals was not accepted by the military government that was then in power in Nigeria, no doubt because General Yakubu Gowon and his colleagues were determined to prevent the general populace from acquiring military skills.
Step three: Cutting Boko Haram off from its sources of food and military supplies. It is a time-tested truism that fighting forces that do not have access to food supplies cannot continue fighting for very long.
A strategy based on a keen appreciation of this fundamental fact lay at the heart of the overall strategy applied by the British army to defeat the guerrilla forces in Malaya in the course of the conflict known as The Malayan Emergency (1948-1960).It is considered highly significant that Lieutenant General Sir Harold Briggs, who was appointed Director of Operations of the British forces in Malaya in 1950, vigorously implemented a strategy aimed at isolating the guerrillas of the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA) from their sources of food.
To achieve this objective, virtually all the civilians resident in the forests were forcibly relocated to strictly guarded fortified villages to prevent the guerrillas from securing food supplies, leading to a situation where large numbers of guerrillas were arrested or killed whenever they approached the fortified villages in search of food.
This strategy of large-scale forced relocation of civilian populations, which was subsequently applied with varying degrees of success by the British in Kenya and by the French and Americans in Indochina and Vietnam needs to be applied in all combat zones where Boko Haram fighters are located in order to cut them off from food supplies.
For instance, all civilians living in and around the notorious Sambisa forest should be forcibly relocated to specially constructed camps situated far away from the combat zones within a strict time limit.
Once the forest has been emptied of civilians, all entrance and exit points should be strictly guarded night and day by heavily armed military units, while an intense bombing campaign should be carried out for the purpose of wiping out all living creatures within the Sambisa forest.
This approach would achieve the dual objective of preventing food and military supplies from reaching the Boko Haram fighters while at the same time killing and wounding large numbers of guerrillas from the air without exposing the Federal Armed Forces to unnecessary risks.
Step four: Implementing an aggressive strategy of massive military operations against Boko Haram fighting units.The successful pursuit of warfare requires that once an initial advantage has been gained on the battlefield, the opposing forces should not be given any breathing space to regroup and continue the battle.
The great Zulu General Shaka (Ushaka Zulu) was renowned for ruthlessly pursuing opposing forces relentlessly until they were totally annihilated. On the battlefield, the Zulu armies never stopped fighting until all the enemy forces had been completely smashed, thus ensuring that no further resistance would be encountered from the defeated enemy.
On the contrary, the danger of failing to follow up vigorously against a defeated enemy was amply illustrated by the disaster that befell the Borno hero Kyari whose forces succeeded in defeating the Sudanese adventurer Rabih Fadlallah at the battle of Gasheggar (close to Kukawa) in 1893, only for Rabih to be given enough breathing space to rally his troops overnight and launch a surprise counter attack, following which the Borno army was routed and Kyari captured and beheaded.
In a similar vein, it would seem that the Federal Forces appear to have unwisely eased pressure on the Boko Haram fighting units two years ago after prematurely declaring victory, thus allowing the Boko Haram insurgents to regroup in secret and begin launching the fresh attacks that we are currently witnessing.
Once the Boko Haram forces have been successfully placed on the defensive the Federal Armed Forces MUST be made to continue attacking them relentlessly from all sides until they are all wiped out.
It is noteworthy that the in the course of his exchange of views with members of the House of Representatives Defense Committee on February 19th 2020, the Governor of Borno State called on the Nigerian army to pursue the Boko Haram insurgents vigorously into their enclaves. His statement would seem to suggest that this is not being done at present.
On the contrary, the Nigerian army would appear to have adopted a strategy of concentrating on defending urban enclaves and abandoning the countryside to the guerrilla forces. It is obvious that it this kind of disastrous strategy (which has never worked anywhere in the world!) that was responsible for the recent tragic incident that took place at Aun, when the Boko Haram fighters were left free to massacre dozens of civilians on the outskirts of Maiduguri.
As the French and the Americans discovered to their cost in Indochina, it is the height of folly to abandon rural areas to guerrilla forces because the guerrillas can then roam to and fro freely, wreaking havoc in their wake, while the conventional forces sit helplessly guarding urban centers.
Step five: Rehabilitation and resettlement of civilian populations in the battle zones. It is a well-known fact that wars are never conclusively ended if the defeated side are subjected to needless suffering after the end of hostilities. If the side that has been defeated is subjected to unnecessary punishment, an incentive is created for new generations of fighters to take to the field further down the line, thus reigniting the war at some point in the future.
There is no doubt that the enlightened policy of “No victors, no vanquished” implemented by the victorious Federal forces after the conclusion of the American civil war helped prevent the outbreak of prolonged guerrilla warfare that would have proved disastrous for the United States of America. Similarly, following the conclusion of the Nigerian civil war, General Yakubu Gowon (wisely counseled by Ajie Ukpabi Asika) prevented possible future prolongation of hostilities by implementing a magnanimous “No victors no vanquished” policy.
However, the best example of how best to end wars is to be found in the manner in which the Soviet Union and the Western powers helped the defeated German and Japanese populations to rise once more from the ashes of defeat to build prosperous economies, thus cutting the ground from under the feet of any die-hard elements who might have wished to prolong the Second World War through guerrilla activities.
In the case of Boko Haram, not only should pro-active steps be taken to reintegrate the disaffected populations in the combat zones into the national fabric, but the underlying causes that contributed in the first place to the emergence of Boko Haram such as widespread unemployment and the absence of educational and economic infrastructures MUST be vigorously addressed.
An effort should also be made to prosecute those responsible for the extra-judicial killing of the original Boko Haram leaders such as Mohammed Yussuf, so that justice can be seen to have been done, for without justice, there can be no long-lasting peace in the areas that were overrun by Boko Haram at one time or the other…
* Dr. Ola Balogun is a film maker, author and musician who is currently resident in Lagos.
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