US to send military advisers & recon to Cameroon

cameroon-map

NBC News:

The Obama administration says it expects to deploy about 300 U.S. service members to the African nation of Cameroon to help stop the spread of Boko Haram and other violent extremist groups.

Roughly 90 U.S. service members are already en route to Cameroon to conduct airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations in the region.

 

Background from our prior briefing reports:

Cameroon, which is located next to Nigeria (Boko Haram’s home base) and shares a difficult-to-monitor 300-mile border with it, announced it was going to war with Boko Haram back in May of 2014 when hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped in a raid. This decision triggered a wave of Boko Haram incursions into Cameroon (including high-profile kidnappings) and retaliatory ground and air operations by the Cameroon Armed Forces.

President Paul Biya next month will celebrate his 33rd anniversary as president (after 7 years as prime minister before that). The Cameroonian military (some parts competent and some parts rickety) could probably use the U.S. military assistance, but there will be concerns as to whether the U.S. is again militarily aiding and training a military force in an autocratic African country after more than a few recent instances of political trouble or repression involving U.S.-trained local military forces.

Cameroon — a country once carved out of colonial remainders by Imperial Germany and then split at random by France and Britain before re-merging itself after independence — now finds itself as an unusually stable dictatorship wedged between the rising conflict in northern Nigeria and the aftermath of the recent genocidal civil war in Central African Republic, exposed along lengthy borders on both sides. The populations in northeast Nigeria and northern Cameroon have long had cultural and economic interchange, since the border was an arbitrary colonial one crossing through an existing society.

AFD Radio Ep. 144 – Fr. Tony Akinwale on Nigeria’s Future

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Guest Interview by Bill: Fr. Tony Akinwale, Nigerian political philosopher and theologian of the Dominican Institute in Ibadan Nigeria. How Nigeria could become a world power very soon and what Americans should know about that country. Then: Kelley covers Guatemala’s political upheaval. Produced: September 18th, 2015.

Episode 144 (53 min):
AFD 144

Related Links

Fr. Tony Akinwale’s website
Nigeria Guardian: “The Real Name Of Corruption”, by Tony Akinwale
Nigeria Guardian: “Naming and renaming” (Public nomenclature under military rule), by Tony Akinwale
Nigeria Guardian: “A kingdom of warlords”, by Tony Akinwale
AFD by Kelley: “Guatemala has a lot to celebrate this independence day”

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And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video game blog of our announcer, Justin.

Boko Haram brings the war to Chad

Last Monday the conflict spillover from Nigeria escalated significantly when four suicide attackers set bombs off in N’Djamena, the capital of neighboring Chad, killing at least 20 and wounding more than 100. Chad has a been a major participant — arguably the backbone — of the regional counterinsurgency against Boko Haram.

N’Djamena is, in fact, quite close to the existing warzone in northeastern Nigeria and northern Cameroon, but Chad’s newly large and aggressive military has previously deterred direct terrorist attacks on major targets in-country, even when it stirred hornets’ nests by getting involved beyond its borders in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations. For example, attacking Chad directly on its home turf was something not even the northern Mali insurgents attempted to do after Chad’s high-profile participation in the 2013 international military intervention in Mali, but Boko Haram doesn’t seem to have the same limits.

In the end, on the other hand, insurgents and terrorists in Mali were able to harass and attack Chadian forces enough times inside Mali itself to force their withdrawal of ground troops. So it remains to be seen whether attacking the capital, rather than Chadian forces in Nigeria, will be more effective or less. It will raise some questions about Chad’s military efficacy, I suspect, if it cannot defend the capital. If Chad continues to develop a reputation as a paper tiger — talking big in Mali and Central African Republic (or now Nigeria), but later abandoning the situation when the heat turns up — it may lose some of its U.S. and European support. That might not be the worst outcome.

Chad’s military responded to the bombing later in the week with airstrikes in Nigeria at six locations, which the Nigerian government (even under new management) insisted didn’t happen, or didn’t happen inside Nigeria’s borders. This would not be the first unilateral military action by Chad inside Nigeria against Boko Haram.

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In Nigeria, White South African mercenaries fill a void

“Relics” of the feared and hated Apartheid-era “South African Defence Force” are secretly (and illegally) fighting Boko Haram for Nigeria, according to recent reporting by The New York Times:

Hundreds of mercenaries from South Africa and other countries are playing a decisive role in Nigeria’s military campaign against Boko Haram, operating attack helicopters and armored personnel carriers and fighting to retake towns and villages captured by the Islamist militant group, according to senior officials in the region.
[…]
A senior Western diplomat confirmed that the South Africans were playing “a major operational role,” particularly at night. Equipped with night-vision goggles, the mercenaries “are whacking them in the evening hours,” the diplomat said.

“The next morning the Nigerian Army rolls in and claims success,” the diplomat added. The mercenaries “are doing the heavy lifting,” said the diplomat, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Another diplomat, also unauthorized to speak publicly on the matter, said he believed the mercenary force was composed of fighters from other countries as well, but mainly South Africa.
[…]
Photographs showing white soldiers atop armored vehicles on what appears to be a major road in Maiduguri have been posted in recent days on Nigerian Twitter feeds. A correspondent for The New York Times in Maiduguri identified the location as the Baga Road. The correspondent has seen the South African mercenaries jogging around Maiduguri’s airport, now closed, where they are encamped.

 
Meanwhile, a steady stream of optimistic propaganda reports from the Nigerian military (and from President Goodluck Jonathan) has taken credit for victory after victory in the campaign against Boko Haram in the country’s northeast, ahead of the postponed elections. This once again undermines the already shaky credibility, on multiple levels, of Nigeria’s armed forces.

An extensive report from South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies speculates that many of the ex-SADF mercenaries are likely veterans of the brutal counterinsurgency campaign that Apartheid South Africa waged in Angola and in South African-occupied South West Africa (now Namibia).

[…] the sort of operations that the ex-SADF soldiers would be conducting against Boko Haram would be very similar to some of the operations they had conducted against the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO), namely ‘very high mobility operations by small forces, heavy in firepower and in protected vehicles, and based on the prompt and quick exploitation of intelligence; backed up by air assault or even parachute insertion of stopper groups.’

 
The contract with SADF veterans — prohibited by South African law from undertaking military operations for hire abroad — also raises more questions about the repeated attempts by Nigerian officials to bring or transfer huge amounts of money into South Africa last fall (example) for undisclosed “purchases” relating to the war against Boko Haram.

Elsewhere, the military of neighboring Chad also continues to conduct quasi-authorized (but mostly unilateral) operations against Boko Haram on Nigerian soil.

Ensign of the South African Defence Force 1981-1994 (via Wikimedia)

Ensign of the South African Defence Force 1981-1994 (via Wikimedia)

Beware the aid of Chad

Al Jazeera America, “US support for Chad may destabilize the Sahel”:

Washington’s support for Déby assumes U.S. interests in the region align with Chad’s. U.S. policymakers should realize, however, that Chad has demonstrated a vested interest in promoting instability and empowering regional militias. Far from a bulwark of stability, Chad has proved a purveyor of chaos.
[…]
Chad’s domestic policies are no less problematic. The country is one of the world’s least free, according to Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World index. Under Déby’s rule, Chad’s already dismal record for political and civil rights has continued to decline.

 
Related background: Chad: How China Created an African Power – The Globalist: How Chinese investment made Chad a vital Central African military ally of the West.

The previous regime in Chad, ejected in the 1990 coup, was also a close U.S. military ally, with success against Libya but horrible results domestically.

Chad’s regional interference in the past 15 years has included repeatedly supporting rebel groups in Sudan, Central African Republic, and elsewhere, in addition to its provision of support and troops for French and US military operations in Mali and Nigeria. Its Central African Republic intervention, which included overthrowing the government and then sending troops to “keep the peace” in the ensuing chaos, ended in disaster, as I previously recounted on this site:

[…] neighboring regional power Chad announced its intention to withdraw its forces from the 6,000 strong African Union multinational intervention force. (Most of that force will be replaced by the new UN force, rather than supplemented.) Chad’s move followed mounting accusations (which were probably true) that it was not a benevolently intervening impartial force but was rather a full-fledged party to the conflict.

Although it’s never been entirely clear just how much meddling Chad’s government was doing before the reciprocal atrocities in C.A.R. began last year, many Christian civilians on the ground had become convinced (rightly or wrongly) that Chad was taking sides and facilitating Muslim militia activities. As a result, various Christian militia groups had begun attacking Chadian peacekeepers more and more frequently, culminating in an alleged recent massacre of Christians (supposedly in self-defense) — all of which prompted their decision to depart. The UN’s newly expanded force will mostly be coming from other African nations, like the existing peacekeepers, but UN officials seem relieved to have Chad’s controversial troops out of the picture, without needing to ask them not to participate anymore.

 
The intervention in Nigeria seems to be the one most closely motivated by economic fears (BBC):

Chad has been impatient to act in order to protect its supply routes, crucial to its economy. Goods come through Cameroon’s Far North while it exports oil through a pipeline running through Nigeria’s Adamawa state.

(That state is just south of current Boko Haram territory.)
Wall Street Journal:

Rampaging through northeastern Nigeria and attacking neighboring Cameroon in January, Islamist militants squeezed paths used by herdsmen who walk one of Chad’s main exports—cattle—to market in Nigeria. Boko Haram also choked off the flow of manufactured goods into Chad’s capital, N’Djamena. Prices for everyday imports like plastic tubs have skyrocketed.

 
Nigeria has done very poorly against Boko Haram, but Chad’s deepening involvement (some of it undertaken without the permission of Nigeria’s government) should be at least as troubling to as welcomed by the international community, if not more so.

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Nigeria military forces elections to be postponed

This weekend, the Nigerian elections commission announced that the presidential, parliamentary, and state elections scheduled for mid-February would be postponed — the national vote for six weeks until the end of March and the state vote into April. The stated reason was the deteriorated security situation in several northern states (although most of the country — which is twice the size of California — is not actively threatened by or anywhere near the insurgency). Indeed, some remote areas are effectively under occupation by Boko Haram. However, it didn’t take long for the news to emerge that the decision had actually been undertaken under heavy pressure by the Nigeria’s security establishment.

This is very troubling, particularly in a country with such a long history of military interference in politics prior to the transition to democracy in 1999. The Nigerian security agencies and military essentially ordered the election commission to postpone the election, saying that they refused to defend polling sites against attacks unless there was a delay. Their reason for this refusal was that they were “too busy” planning a six-week counter-offensive against Boko Haram at the same time. As numerous people pointed out in response: Why are they suddenly now attacking Boko Haram after years of inaction, and how are they suddenly now going to be able to wrap this problem up in time for the delayed elections?

“The security agencies forced [Election body chairman Attahiru Jega] into postponing on an issue that is frivolous,” said Jibrin Ibrahim, a political analyst with the Centre on Democracy and Development.

“They say they need six weeks to defeat Boko Haram. Boko Haram has been growing for six years. If in six weeks Boko Haram has not been defeated, they could call for another delay and ultimately destroy Nigerian democracy,” he added.

 
There is also serious suspicion that the military itself may have been pressured (to cause a delay) by the ruling People’s Democratic Party, which is facing the strongest challenge yet to its continuously elected rule since 1999, and had recently started to head toward defeat in the polling, as town after town fell to the insurgency, corruption scandals continued to break, and people became unhappy with the economy (especially with falling oil prices).

Even before the chaos of January, a December poll found voters nationwide tied 42% to 42% in presidential voting intention, but just 29% trust in the ruling PDP. Traditional PDP strongholds were starting to erode and the northern-favored APC candidate, former military President and General Buhari, was making inroads in the south. An extra six weeks might very well make the chances of defeat greater at this point, but at least it’s an opportunity to try to turn things around; in contrast, not delaying the election might have sealed the party’s fate for sure.

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Boko Haram’s offensive on Maiduguri appears to have begun

Nigeria’s Boko Haram insurgency has spent the past month carefully picking off smaller military bases in northeastern Borno state — increasing their supply of weapons, demoralizing the armed forces, and reducing the chances of reinforcements arriving when the group turns toward a bigger prize. That prize is Maiduguri, the Borno state capital and a city of two million where the organization got its start, and the road is now — quite literally — open to it. Unsurprisingly, Boko Haram appears to have launched a concerted offensive to take the city.

maiduguri-nigeria-map

Complementing Boko Haram’s manipulative strategy of minimizing world attention on their operations (full story➚), the group waited to start their offensive against Maiduguri until day after President Goodluck Jonathan’s recent re-election campaign rally there. That timing likely created maximal local terror, with the least resistance, but without attracting as much attention as another group might have sought.

Most groups probably would have launched a coordinated offensive on the city during the rally to maximize propaganda value. Indeed, four years and three months earlier, in October 2010, a very different and much older Nigerian terrorist organization — the southern Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) — dramatically staged a car bomb attack in the middle of a campaign rally in Abuja, the federal capital of Nigeria, almost in front of President Jonathan himself.

Even back in 2010 (see previous link), Boko Haram itself was known to bomb campaign rallies. Some four years later, they didn’t they hit Maiduguri while President Jonathan was present. Instead, the group waited to attack one day later. It’s entirely possible that this delay was the strategically and tactically superior move.

Boko Haram’s commanders would have known that security — and media coverage — would be substantially heightened while the president was physically in the city. By waiting a day and not attacking the city while the President of Nigeria was present, there was not nearly as much firepower present — or cameras to put it on the evening news in the United States.

An early edition of the BBC report (since revised, but I saved the text beforehand) tells the story of what happened next:

One resident on the outskirts of the town told the BBC that “hundreds of thousands of people” were fleeing and that the military was keeping a low profile.

“Only prayers will save us now, not the military,” she said, pointing out that the town’s defences now depended on civilian volunteers who had formed to repel the militant threat.

 
The attack was turned back after sustained counter-assault by federal troops, local defense militias, and the air force, but the assault on Maiduguri provided a distraction while Boko Haram seized the town of Monguno and sent federal troops there packing:

Militants also reportedly attacked Monguno, 140km (86 miles) north of Maiduguri.

Security sources told Reuters the army there was being overwhelmed, with houses set on fire.

A journalist in Maiduguri told the BBC that fleeing soldiers from Monguno were now arriving at the barracks in in Maiduguri.

Monguno fell this past weekend after about a week of attacks.

The attack on Maiduguri the previous weekend also probably tested the current defenses and deployments in the city ahead of the full-scale offensive, which began this past weekend.

Militants from the Islamist Boko Haram group began attacking Nigeria’s major northeastern city of Maiduguri shortly after midnight, residents told FRANCE 24 on Sunday, in an alarming escalation of violence ahead of a critical general election.

Explosions and gunfire erupted on the outskirts of the city in the middle of the night, marking the start of a major attack, according to Maiduguri residents. The sound of constant shelling could be heard from the Njimtilo area, about 20 kilometres away from the city, until around 11am local time.

More:

Boko Haram fighters stormed the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri on Saturday, sparking a running battle with Nigerian troops for control of the strategically crucial Borno state capital.

Islamic extremists attacked Maiduguri, the biggest city in northeast Nigeria from four fronts overnight with the crescendo of warfare – booming cannon and whooshing rockets – continuing Sunday, witnesses said.

 
Now, we wait to see whether Boko Haram can take and hold the city against the Nigerian military and an impending arrival of multinational forces from the African Union.

Without intervention, it seems almost inevitable at this point that the federal government will allow Maiduguri to fall.