AFRICANGLOBE – For two weeks now, stories about the regional alliance between Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin through a Multi National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) aimed at taming Boko Haram have been prominent. The crisis, formerly seen as Nigeria’s domestic affair, has assumed regional importance as other countries have in recent times fallen victim to the terrorists, with attendant threat to their territorial integrity. Then there are fresh reports saying the South African operatives, said to be mercenaries, will lead the way and clear Boko Haram with gunships before the army moves in.
While the MNJTF’s outing has been generally successful, insiders say that there are other countries that are playing an active role in the offensive against Boko Haram, albeit from the sidelines, in reference to South Africa. A credible security source revealed that far from the botched arms deal through back channels – coupled with the diplomatic row that trailed it – and the reported engagement of 100 personnel said to be mercenaries to train Nigerian troops to fight the insurgents, the South Africans are involved in specialized training for the Nigerian Air Force (NAF).
According to the source: “The relationship between Nigeria and South Africa is not as bad as some people think. Yes, there is disagreement, but South Africa is playing a sisterly role because many of their war plane pilots are currently assisting the NAF with technical training on aerial reconnaissance in the North-East.” The source did not, however, confirm if indeed 100 mercenaries are training Nigerian troops.
Corroborating, another security source confided that it is true South African pilots have trained and are still training Nigerian pilots who have so far recorded victories in recent operations in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states after they carried air raids in Boko Haram hideouts. “Nigeria has recently procured modern military hardware, including fighter jets and armoured vehicles. But some of the equipments are so sophisticated that both our ground troops and the Air Force cannot operate them without substantial training, which will take some time.”
The source added: “This is basically what made the deployment of the South African experts inevitable, in view of the fact that Nigeria was running out of time and there was the urgent need to substantially address the Boko Haram problem. The top military hierarchy and the Federal Government are trying to revamp our image which is at a record low, especially going by unprecedented breakthroughs recorded by troops from neighbouring countries.”
Findings revealed that with the technical support of the South African pilots, the NAF successfully shelled some Boko Haram enclaves around Gulani and Gujba in Yobe State, the Damboa general area, including Alagarno, fringes of the notorious Sambisa Forest as well as parts of Maiduguri, Mafa, Dikwa in Borno State and around Michika in Adamawa State. “The planes and the helicopters are ours, but South Africans are giving support and the ground troops normally complete operations,” another source disclosed.
Beside repelling and even taking the war to Boko Haram during the day, the fighter jets being used in recent offensives also operate at night. “The jets can identify, target and strike at the enemy with precision,” he said. “Many hideouts of the insurgents have been cleared and I assure you that while hundreds of insurgents have been killed, others are on the run.”
We found out that several recent attacks by Boko Haram have been repelled, due to timely arrival of fighter jets and armoured vehicles. “The two audacious attempts to take over Maiduguri recently were averted because the troops are relatively well-equipped. “This is coupled with the fact that there is covert support by friendly neighbours,” said a security expert, retired Major Salihu Bakari.
Asked if he is aware of the arrival of South African “mercenaries”, Bakari said, “No, but it is likely. When a country is at war, everything is possible, so I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Curiously, South African Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, according to a report on TimesLive.co.za said South Africans helping the Nigerian army against Boko Haram should be arrested on their return. She labelled them “mercenaries” in comments made to reporters on the eve of the African Union’s summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. “There are consequences when somebody leaves the country and provides any form of military assistance that is not part of the government’s deployment,” she said in the report.
Mapisa-Nqakula added that the police and prosecuting authority should make examples of the group by charging them under the regulation on Foreign Military Assistance Act. She also said no South African National Defence Force member was deployed to Nigeria and her country had not received an official request for assistance or weapons.
Other media reports also said a multinational team of over 100 private military experts was on its way to Nigeria to help against Boko Haram. One report said former soldiers of the SA Defence Force [the predecessor of the SA National Defence Force] formed the core.
However, investigations revealed that scores of ex-military men from South Africa are currently in the North-East assisting Nigerian troops against Boko Haram, but sources said tagging them as mercenaries is improper. “The specialists are not mercenaries… as technical partners they were operating within the ambit of law, as such legally acceptable. Nigeria is using all ways and means to win the war,” the source said.
It was also gathered that military experts, mostly from Eastern Europe, are among other foreign specialists assisting Nigerian troops. Competent sources intimated that the foreigners are providing technical training and capacity-building to Nigerian troops.
We also learnt that only Chadian troops are on ground in Nigerian territory, as they are more involved in direct fighting with the terrorist, as they have better knowledge of the terrain and are aware of some locations of their camps. The country houses the headquarters of the collaborative francophone military standby group for engaging terrorism in Africa and across the Sahel region.
Apparently as a result of the increasing assaults on them, Boko Haram fighters are reportedly getting increasingly desperate, with locals who managed to escape from villages where operations are ongoing saying the insurgents have resorted to using villagers as human shields. Kime Sainna, a farmer from Damboa, who is now in Maiduguri, said the insurgents are now leaving their camps and taking over hamlets. “[The insurgents] have taken over dozens of communities and melted into the local population, who are held under duress,” he said.
Another witness, Jibrin Ali, from Auno along Maiduguri-Damaturu road said the insurgents are rampaging. “There is mounting pressure on them these days by ground troops and Air Force personnel in aircraft and that’s why they’re fleeing in all directions,” he said
By: Hamza Idris, Ronald Mutum And Terna Doki