President Buhari, being a retired army officer, ordered a change in the way the military does business as soon as he came to power in March. As a former general he knew how to assess and address the current commanders and has enacted a number of military reforms. This has led to the dismissal of a lot of officers, especially in the army. One general was even jailed for incompetence, misbehavior and losing a major battle to Boko Haram. There are new training programs, which the troops appreciate as a lot of corrupt or incompetent officers did not want to be bothered in the past. While most of the new training programs have been for the army, the navy, which is taking the lead against oil thieves in the south, has done the same. Sailors often find themselves battling heavily armed gangs and appreciate training that will make them less likely to be a casualty or on the losing side. The oil facilities are mostly in the Niger River Delta, which is a maze of waterways where the oil gangs hide their operations. Because of this the navy is heavily involved. The air force also lost a lot of officers in an attempt by Buhari to end the cycle of corruption that had left most aircraft unable to fly (because funds for maintenance had been stolen). That must be working because air force manned and unmanned aircraft are more frequently seen in the sky. The air force says it has carried out nearly 1,500 air strikes in September and October. The air force also coordinates with the army so air strikes on remote Boko Haram camps are followed up with a ground attack to capture prisoners and gather intelligence.
While of all of the changes ordered by Buhari have made a difference it is clear that the long-held belief that Boko Haram would be destroyed by the end of 2015 is not going to happen. The Islamic terrorists are surviving in the bush and still managing to gain recruits. Another problem is the continued delay (for several months) in the start of an offensive against Boko Haram by an international force of troops contributed by neighboring countries. This is apparently because of disputes over how the campaign will be run. The last one, in early 2015, led to complaints that the Nigerian troops would not cooperate with the foreign troops and often acted recklessly.
Captured Boko Haram men report being told that thousands of Boko Haram men are being prepared for a major attack on Maiduguri (capital of Borno State and where Boko Haram started) but none of the prisoners actually saw a lot of Boko Haram gunmen assembled in one place. The army believes that this is all Boko Haram propaganda to improve morale among their own men. The air force and the United States have been carrying out intense aerial surveillance in Borno for over a year and can find no evidence of large Boko Haram camps and not a lot of smaller ones.
President Buhari has quietly reinstated the use of mercenaries. His predecessor had hired some foreign mercenaries in late 2014 to train and advise (lead) a task force of elite Nigerian troops to quickly crush the most determined Boko Haram resistance. While running for election Buhari condemned this move and sent the mercenaries home once he was in power. Buhari condemned the bribes that accompanied the mercenary deal but his own special operations officers reported that the mercenaries had been quite useful. This all began in late 2014 South African mercenaries were brought in. South Africa is the country where the military term “commando” was invented over a century ago and that is where these fellows can still be found. In January a South African security firm (STTEP, for Specialized Tasks, Training, Equipment) was given a three month contract (worth nearly $4 million) to assemble a force of a hundred combat experienced trainers to help Nigeria deal with Boko Haram. The men STTEP sent consisted of whites and blacks but all were experienced (often former special operations) combat vets. A few were from outside Africa although most were South African (or from neighboring countries like Namibia). In a few weeks the STTEP force had expanded by selecting competent Nigerian troops and these few hundred men, moving quickly in trucks and a few armored vehicles as the 72nd Mobile Force Battalion, with Nigerian aircraft overhead (some with STTEP men aboard acting as spotters) quickly smashed one “troublesome” Boko Haram group after another. Boko Haram had up to ten thousand armed men in the north organized into dozens of smaller units led by charismatic men of varying military skill. The STTEP force went after the most effective Boko Haram battlegroups, which not only greatly weakened Boko Haram overall but demoralized the less competent Boko Haram leaders and gunmen. This made it easier for the troops from neighboring countries to go after the remaining Boko Haram fighters. By late February Boko Haram was weakened sufficiently for the Nigerian troops to go in and carry out the final push against the demoralized and thoroughly unnerved Boko Haram fighters. STTEP was successful but Buhari did not extend their contract and in March and the STTEP personnel left as the Nigerian Army was advancing into Boko Haram strongholds and freeing hundreds of women and children the Islamic terrorists had captured in 2014. Nigerian officials soon admitted they had used STTEP and there were few complaints because it worked. Buhari had STTEP checked out and concluded that that firm was legit and is bringing them back. Some 250 STTEP personnel will assist in upcoming offensives against Boko Haram.
Boko Haram has done an enormous amount of damage in the northeast. At their height (in early 2015) Boko Haram controlled over 25,000 square kilometers in northeast (Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states) Nigeria. That was nearly three percent of Nigeria. Since then most of that area has been recaptured and Boko Haram chased from villages and urban areas. These Boko Haram have taken to living in the bush, in small groups and raiding rural villages for food and slaves. Boko Haram has long kidnapped women, girls and children and used them for labor to run their camps and carry gear. A growing number of these captives have been persuaded to be suicide bombers.
In the northeast over 300 schools have been destroyed by Boko Haram and 70 percent of children in Borno State (the worst hit) are no longer able to attend school at all. After all “Boko Haram” literally means Western education is forbidden (because it is un-Islamic and thus a cause of Nigeria’s’ social and economic problems). Six years of heavy fighting have left the infrastructure (roads, power supply, communications) up there a mess. Since 2009 the Boko Haram related violence has left over 17,000 dead and over two million homeless. Most of the damage was in Borno.
Boko Haram released photos on the Internet of a rocket building workshop. Analysis of the photos indicates that the equipment being used was stolen from towns and colleges that Boko Haram had occupied for a time in 2014 and 2015. Apparently the equipment was moved to a remote location where the Islamic terrorists are still able to operate. Then again it was unclear when the photos were taken but the army has not captured such a workshop yet.
November 1, 2015: In the northeast (Borno) troops found Boko Haram using an abandoned school as a camp and drove the Islamic terrorists out, killing four of them.
October 31, 2015: Boko Haram made over twenty attacks in Borno during October, leaving nearly 200 dead and many more wounded. A number of attacks were foiled and several hundred Boko Haram were killed or captured.
October 30, 2015: In the northeast the army has been posting a large poster containing pictures of a hundred specific Boko Haram members being sought. This includes over a dozen senior leaders, some of them with large rewards offered for information.
October 27, 2015: In the northeast (Borno State) troops attacked two Boko Haram camps in the Sambisa Forest, killed 30 of the Islamic terrorists and freed 338 women and children being held captive. There have apparently been some negotiations with Boko Haram in which the Islamic terrorists offered to free hundreds of their captives if the government would release the most skilled Boko Haram bomb maker. The government refused.
October 24, 2015: In the northeast (Maiduguri, capital of Borno State) a female suicide bomber killed three people and wounded five. There were actually two women suicide bombers but police managed to seize one before she could detonate. In another incident four female suicide bombers attempted to get into the city but were thwarted with the help of local defense militias that watched the roads into the city and acted against anyone acting suspiciously. Three of these bombers detonated and killed one militiaman and wounded nine others. The fourth suicide bomber was stopped before she could detonate.
October 23, 2015: In the northeast there were three suicide bomber attacks on mosques (two in Maiduguri and one in Yolo, capital of neighboring Adamawa State). These attacks left 55 dead and many more wounded. Boko Haram attacks mosques to intimidate Moslem clergy to preach against Islamic terrorists and Boko Haram in particular.
In central Nigeria (Jos) dozens of armed men belonging to a local Wahhabi mosque attacked a crowd of Shia celebrating a religious event. Over thirty Shia were wounded before police could intervene. The Wahhabi mosque was one of thousands founded worldwide with the assistance of Saudi cash and missionaries over the last three decades. The Wahhabi form of Islam is very hostile towards non-Moslems and Moslems who are not Wahhabi.
October 22, 2015: In the northeast (Borno State) Boko Haram attacked the town of Kerewa, which straddles the Cameroon border. By the next day Nigerian troops had cleared the Islamic terrorists out of the Nigerian side of the town while Cameroonian troops had done the same on their side.
October 20, 2015: In the northeast (Borno State) troops and local militia attacked a Boko Haram camp where a large scale attack was being prepared. The army had received tips from locals. Over a hundred Islamic terrorists were killed in the operation and 36 captured women and children were freed. Boko Haram continues to make small scale attacks in the northeast but the Islamic terrorists are so unpopular with the civilian population that the soldiers, police and self-defense militias have a steady supply of tips on what the Boko Haram is up to. Thus large scale Boko Haram attacks are now very rare.
October 18, 2015: In the northeast (Borno State) a female suicide bomber was shot dead as she tried to get into an army barracks. She was found to have explosives and a detonator in a bag she was carrying.
October 15, 2015: In the northeast (Maiduguri, capital of Borno State) two Boko Haram suicide bombers attacked a mosque leaving several dozen dead.
October 14, 2015: The U.S. agreed to send 300 troops to Cameroon to help with the fight against Boko Haram. The U.S. already has some troops in neighboring Niger, where American UAVs and manned recon aircraft operate out of a Niger air base. Apparently UAVs will also operate out of the Cameroon base, which is very close to the Nigerian border.
In central Nigeria (Kogi State) troops guarding a mosque defeated a Boko Haram attack on the place, killing two of the Islamic terrorists.