Nigeria: Islamic State West Africa Province Perplexed

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October 28, 2019: More Nigerian leaders are admitting the obvious; that Boko Haram violence continues because so many federal officials, military commanders and northern politicians cripple the counter-terrorism effort with corrupt practices. Too many Nigerian see the expensive effort to defeat Boko Haram as an opportunity to make (steal) money. The corruption up there is no secret and there have already been several newsworthy incidents where corruption was revealed or troops openly protested the dishonesty and incompetence of their leaders. Then there was the embarrassing situation of American aid being sought and the U.S. refusing to send any equipment because, based on past performance, it would soon become inoperable, or just disappear, because of the chronic corruption. Generals and politicians tried to depict that as a deliberate insult to Nigeria but most Nigerians agreed with the Americans.

The Boko Haram violence is now basically banditry. It is concentrated in northwestern Borno State and has forced over 100,000 civilians from their homes so far this year. Boko Haram activity largely consists of raiding towns and villages for supplies or, less visibly, arranging for many towns and villages to avoid raids by paying a “tax” to the local Boko Haram group. The army has learned to exploit this tactic by noting a sharp decline in raids for an area, even though troops are still ambushed. The military would recruit local civilians to collect information and inform the military of who made these deals and where the Boko Haram camps appear to be. This is facilitated by the wide availability of cell phone service, even in areas plagued by Boko Haram activity. When the army has collected enough information a major operation is carried out which often destroys, or at lease disperses a local Boko Haram group.

This tactic is less useful in other areas of the Moslem north where the main source of violence is fighting between tribes for control of land and water. That fighting has, for over a year, killed more people than the continuing Boko Haram violence.

Oil

Oil production, the primary export, was stalled earlier in the year because of the growing gang violence in the oil-producing areas. The gang operations have been reduced and oil production is on the rise. In August production was 1.93 million BPD (barrels per day). At the end of 2018 oil production was officially cut to 1.7 million BPD to comply with OPEC cuts that are needed to increase the oil price. That did not work because Nigeria needed the money and produced as much oil as it could (about 1.9 million BPD). That goal is still threatened by the damage done by the oil theft gangs. Nigeria, of all oil-producing nations, is the one with the worst oil theft problems. For example, Nigeria loses 400,000 BPD to oil thieves. Second place Mexico loses less than 10,000 BPD.

OPEC production level limits are requests, not demands because OPEC has no enforcement mechanism. If too many OPEC members cheat the oil price will not increase and all producers will suffer. Until the 2013 crash in oil prices (triggered by the North American fracking boom) major OPEC members could be expected to make additional production cuts to cover smaller OPEC producers cannot, or will not adhere to their production quotas. That is no longer automatic. The Saudis are hurting from low prices and need all the oil income they can get. But the Saudis will still cut production if it is likely to get the oil price to increase. The world price was $45 a barrel in February but is currently $61, which was where it was earlier in the year. The price nearly hit $70 but fell because there is too much oil available. OPEC unofficially welcomes Nigeria being unable to ship as much oil as Nigeria wants to sell.

Daily production in 2018 was 2.09 million BPD, up from 2.03 million BPD in 2017. Given the investments in oil production (mainly by foreign companies) Nigeria should be producing 4 million BPD but continuing problems with oil theft gangs and repair/maintenance backlogs (especially of the pipelines) in the Niger River Delta (where all the oil is) and decades of government inability to deal with these problems are causing a growing number of foreign oil companies to sell their Nigerian assets and go elsewhere. In effect, it is more profitable to do business in other countries. For example it currently costs $23 per barrel to produce oil in Nigeria but without all the violence and corruption that could be $15 a barrel or less. The new oil production firms will demand better terms from Nigeria meaning less oil income for the government. The effort to explore for oil in the Moslem north is also crippled by the bad reputation Nigeria has when it comes to foreign oil companies. This is one of the reasons for turning to Russia to help out with oil production. That could be interesting because the Russians tend to be pretty ruthless with problems like oil theft and armed gangs. The Russians hire mercenaries and order them to shoot back and keep shooting.

October 26, 2019: In northwest Syria, American commandos raided the hideout of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. While the commandos sought to take Baghdadi alive the ISIL leader fled to a tunnel system under his hideout and was trapped there by the commandos. To avoid capture he blew himself up. Biometric tests of the remains confirmed it was Baghdadi, as did members of his family who shared the compound with him. The death of Baghdadi will have some impact on ISIL, especially since there is no clear successor to Baghdadi, who was also the founder of ISIL and set the tone for the organization from the beginning seven years ago. Baghdadi began in 2010 as he became the new leader for the Iraq branch of al Qaeda. Seeking ways to expand, he split from al Qaeda and formed ISIL, the supreme Islamic terror organizations that all others must follow, or else.

The Nigerian branch of Boko Haram, ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province) also considers itself the primary ISIL “province” (chapter, division, franchise or whatever) in Africa. As a result, national borders are less important and ISWAP has become a threat to all the countries (Chad, Cameroon, Libya, Niger, Nigeria and the Central African Republic/CAR) bordering Lake Chad. This is nothing new because in 2015 these Lake Chad nations agreed to cooperate in dealing with the growing Boko Haram violence along the southern shore of Lake Chad. The Islamic terrorists would steal fishing boats and move along the coast and sometimes occupy small islands as bases. As the Boko Haram groups operating in northern Borno State evolved into ISWAP, ISIL sent experienced personnel from Syria and Iraq who helped ISWAP with technical matters like bomb building techniques and how to use commercial quadcopters for planning attacks and tracking the local soldiers and police. American and French aerial and electronic intelligence in the region and Middle East have confirmed the connection to what is left of ISIL in Syria/Iraq. ISIL leader Baghdadi was known to be hiding out somewhere in Iraq or Syria and under constant pressure from his many pursuers. But contact between ISIL headquarters and ISWAP, while irregular, was maintained. ISWAP is, just from monitoring mass media reports, the most active ISIL faction at the moment and the Nigerian leaders of ISWAP want to keep it that way. This pays propaganda dividends in Nigeria and neighboring countries where it makes recruiting easier and extortion victims more willing to “pay their taxes.” All this has also made ISWAP a primary target for Nigerian and international forces. ISWAP is learning that being in that kind of spotlight makes it a primary target for a lot more attackers. Losing Baghdadi and the possibility of a contentious selection of his successor won’t help ISWAP but it is unclear how much it will hurt.

October 25, 2019: In the northwest (Zamfara State), the rumors were apparently true. There were vague reports earlier this year that the Ansaru Islamic terrorists had returned from exile but now it is official. There had been rumors since 2017 that al Qaeda affiliated Ansaru was still around. For nearly a year there were indications that the increasing violence in Zamfara was the result of Ansaru Islamic terrorists returning from years of exile in Libya. Islamic terrorists in Libya have suffered an unbroken series of defeats since 2016 and recently the LNA (Libyan National Army), the strongest military force in Libya, has destroyed or chased away most of the Islamic terror groups still operating in southern Libya. At the same time one of the founders of Ansaru, Abu Abdullah Idris bin Umar Al Barnawi (also known as Ansari), a Boko Haram leader also known as “Ba Idrisa”, had apparently been forced out of his Boko Haram. There is nothing, yet, to connect the reappearance of Ansaru with the coup against Barnawi. But both developments indicate hard times for Islamic terrorists in Africa. In September the U.S. added Barnawi to the list of international Islamic terrorists subject to individual sanctions.

Barnawi has been a prominent factor in the rise and fall of these African Islamic terrorist groups. In mid-2014 the U.S. announced a $5 million reward for the capture of Barnawi, at the time a former Boko Haram leader who broke away in 2012 to found the even more radical (and openly allied with al Quaeda) Ansaru. The feud between Boko Haram and Ansaru became more public in 2013 when criticisms of Boko Haram appeared on pro-terrorism websites. Ansaru (for Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan, or "Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa") is a Boko Haram splinter group that became more active after it declared its existence in 2012. Ansaru, and Barnawi, objected to the Boko Haram tactics of killing lots of Moslems and wanted to concentrate just killing foreigners or non-Moslem Nigerians. It is unclear how large Ansaru was back then and how much violence within Boko Haram, if any, resulted from the split. Ansaru appears to have always been very small, perhaps only a few hundred members, and more interested (than Boko Haram) in working closely with Islamic terror groups operating elsewhere in Africa. It was this interest in attacking or kidnapping foreigners (especially Americans) that got the Ansaru leader on the U.S. most wanted terrorist list. Shortly after the Americans put the price on his head Barnawi rejoined Boko Haram as chief spokesman while what was left of Ansaru headed north to Libya. By mid-2016 Barnawi was declared head of Boko Haram by ISIL leadership. That caused a split in Boko Haram as the fellow he replaced, Abubakar Shekau, took his loyalists (nearly half of Boko Haram) and continued to lead it while the ISIL faction thrived as the Islamic State West Africa Province .

October 24, 2019: President Buhari visited Russia to sign a military and economic cooperation deal. Russia receives contracts to build a railroad and develop new oil and gas deposits. In return, Russia sells Nigeria weapons (like a dozen Mi-35 helicopter gunships) that could not be obtained from the West because of the crippling corruption in the Nigerian military. Russia sells to anyone who can pay and will often accept barter deals.

October 20, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), soldiers and CJTF (civilian defense volunteers) captured two known Boko Haram officials and fourteen of their subordinates. The two leaders (number 41 and 90 on the most wanted list) were logistics (supply) specialists. These men make deals with local merchants to supply Boko Haram with items the Islamic terrorists can afford to pay for.

October 19, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), a Boko Haram vehicle triggered a Boko Haram roadside bomb, killing seven and wounding eight Boko Haram gunmen. This happens more frequently as more roadside bombs and mines are used by different Boko Haram factions that do not communicate much.

October 18, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), the air force attacked a large group of Boko Haram outside Gwoza, a town near the Cameroon border, killing at least thirty of the Islamic terrorists. That military has repeatedly clashed with Boko Haram in this area since 2014.

October 13, 2019: In the northeast (Borno State), airstrikes caught a large group of Boko Haram out in the open and killed about forty of them. This took place near Bama, which was once the second-largest city in Borno. By early 2016 Boko Haram violence had left Bama in ruins. Over 80 percent of its structures had been destroyed or burned out. Nearly all the original population (270,000) has fled since Boko Haram first seized it in September 2014. During seven months of Boko Haram occupation, the economy of Bama was destroyed. Bama changed several hands times as the army kept trying to take it and keep Boko Haram out. That was finally accomplished in early 2016 and all the fighting literally destroyed the city. Bama, once a regional trade center, has yet to revive and that is one reason why the Borno economy has been slow to recover. Groups of Boko Haram gunmen still operate around Bama.

Elsewhere in Borno state, the governor offered a peace deal to Boko Haram faction leader Abubakar Shekau and Shekau officially refused to consider it. There are two factions of Boko Haram. The larger one, up north, is the local ISIL affiliate and has about 3,000 armed men. The smaller Shekau faction has about half as many armed men and operates further south near the Borno State capital of Maiduguri and the Sambisa Forest. Both factions rely on the fact that the years of Boko Haram violence in Borno State (where Boko Haram originated in 2004) has increased the poverty and corruption the Islamic terrorist organization was founded to eliminate. While many potential recruits are discouraged by stricter standards and more fanatic approach of ISIL (compared to the original Boko Haram) faction the most hardcore Islamic radicals are drawn to the more extreme groups and that way Boko Haram persists.

October 9, 2019: In the northeast (Borno State), troops caught a group of ten Boko Haram who were attempting to hide in local communities Gwoza. The ten turned out to be Boko Haram leaders seeking to escape a major army operation in the area that had overwhelmed local Boko Haram forces. Boko Haram survives by dispersing and retreating when confronted with overwhelming force.

 

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