In a desperate jihadist survival tactics, Boko Haram and Islamic State of West Africa Province have temporarily suspended their bitter rivalry to focus on the regional Multi-National Joint Task Force offensives and the Nigerian Army-led offensive in the Lake Chad Basin states. Credible information confirmed that the temporary jihadist coalition has banned fasting for their fighters, joined battlefield forces with ISIS in Libya and resorted to recruiting child soldiers and suicide bombers to boost battlefield capabilities. This report calls for active regional intelligence, security and military engagement, absolute local vigilance and a sustained regional collaborative effort as part of a joint counter insurgency strategy.
Rival jihadist factions loyal to either Abubakar Shekau’s JAS or Boko Haram and ISWAP have tactically regrouped along the fringes of the Lake Chad basin for the first time since major splits. However, the fissure was made worse by continuous land, aerial and amphibious joint offensives attacks by the regional MNJTF – Nigeria, Chad, Niger and to some extent Cameroon. This was further exacerbated by the ongoing operations by the Nigerian military in some parts of Borno State, led by the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai.
Ramadan fasting suspended
To recover lost ground against the continuous huge battlefield deaths of several hundreds of key cell commanders and strongholds along the Lake Chad Basin, the bitter jihadists splinter groups have suspended fasting. It was reliably gathered that the respective Shura Councils have waived fasting for all frontline fighters during the Holy Month of Ramadan to muster energy. The jihadists have also adopted an active military style collaborative strategy with a more experienced fighting unit from Libya against the security and armed forces of the regional MNJTF and various countries’ troops. They are regrouping in a manner that is dubbed by reliable sources with knowledge of jihadist activities in the region as: “Unholy Ramadan Alliance of regional jihadists.”
Unholy international jihadist alliance
In a quick fix international merger never seen before, Boko Haram and ISWAP factions linked to Abu Musab Al Barnawi; Abubakar Shekau JAS faction; splinter faction of Bako Borzogo and Modu Sulum; and other militant factions have joined forces with one AZWAJ jihadist faction. It is believed that ASWAJ is a tactically experienced and deadly terrorist group known to operate under ISIS in Libya. The international jihadist alliance is reported to be merging its combined experienced forces and influence along the banks and islands of the Lake Chad.
The first Lake Chad Basin jihadist coalition reunion was held in mid April 2020. Sources describe the secret meeting as the start of a strategic, spiritual, tactical and operational framework building amongst the various Boko Haram and ISWAP jihadist camps with their new international network. The newly appointed Imam Goni Umar, who succeeded late Mohammed Shuwa – the ISWAP Chief Judge that was killed in an MNJTF aerial strike at Duguri – a leading ISWAP Islamic Scholar and the new Chief Judge, is said to have spearheaded the jihadist coalition proceedings.
In addition to ISIS in Libya, the unholy union is said to have attracted the presence of other influential and senior ISWAP commanders, including one Baba Kaka – currently the Governor of the Lake Chad General Area – Mallam Ibrahim, Abu Imrana, Malam Sa’ad, Abu Abdullahi and Bako Fulgori, among other Boko Haram ISWAP local and regional war lords. The leaked outcome of the meeting has shown that a jihadist coalition is at an advanced stage. The essence is to actualise a common tactical and operational model of launching deadly coordinated attacks on Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chadian military formations within this month of Ramadan. Consequently, this further demonstrates the urgent need for regional states surveillance, awareness, preparedness and response readiness to pre-empt the jihadist coalition.
The jihadists are re-deploying more experienced armed fighters to reinforce strategic locations in the Lake Chad Basin under the command of Baba Kaka – the governor of the Tumbuns – with an approximate coordinate of areas that suffered heavy bombardment by the regional MNJTF. Hence the dire need for the MNJTF to revisit known locations with maximum precision. Some battle experienced jihadist commanders and warlords, including Baba Isa, Abu Imrana, Abduljaleef and Musa have been placed on standby with hundreds of jihadist fighters in Tumbus and Garibaldi’s. Jihadist special fighters are known to be camping in areas around Tumbun.
The jihadists are actively fortifying strategic locations in the Lake Chad axis. Many local fishermen who could potentially act as spies have been forced away from key areas. Some of the fishermen, some of whom the jihadist rely on for partial survival and funding activities, have all been resettled in other areas. Jihadists commanders with deep knowledge of the terrain select hiding locations that are covered with dark “Kangar trees.” Areas that provide access but perfect camouflage for items as large as vehicles to move underneath for miles without detection from the Air Force and military reconnaissance drones.
To create a buffer zone, the jihadists militants frequently dig up trenches to shield their locations, leaving one “southern side” open as entry and exit points. In most cases, jihadist fortify their bases by burying mines and Improvised Explosive Device in anticipation of land attacks from state and regional MNJTF. These locations are ordinarily hard to locate and access, but known routes from sources familiar with these locations can provide an effective planning response for a coordinated regional MNJTF operation.
North East Nigeria
Boko Haram terrorists group leader Shekau’s JAS faction has joined forces with the faction of Amir Borzogo to strengthen positions in camps under Bama Local Government Area in Borno State and some parts of Yobe State. These camps are strategically established to ease abductions, restock food, medical supplies and petroleum products. Jihadist attacks could easily be coordinated along the eastern part of Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. These jihadist cells rely on local and cross-border trade of fish and taxation of merchants as a major fund-raising source. Other criminal activities include sales and rustling of cattle in Baga cattle markets and income generation through agriculture to fund some of their campaign of terror in Nigeria’s Northeast and the Lake Chad.
Desperate jihadists turn for child soldiers
To replenish their badly depleted strength and hundreds of jihadists fighters killed by the regional MNJTF, the Nigerian Army and Nigerien defence forces, the coalition of Boko Haram and ISWAP jihadist are recruiting child soldiers between 13 and 16 years old. On May 1, 2020, over 500 child soldiers were reported to have been trained and graduated at a location called “Tudun Kurna” under the spiritual command of the newly appointed Chief Imam, Goni Maina. The young and inexperienced child soldiers were given basic military style combat operation skills in preparation for upcoming offensives.
While briefing the hapless children militants, the Chief Imam was said to have further radicalised the underaged recruits to show absolute loyalty and discipline to their commanders and prepare to revenge the recent onslaught by the regional MNJTF and the various national defence forces of Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria and all infidels. In a typical jihadist motivational selection process and brainwash tactics, 200 young jihadist graduates have been “rewarded” to take part in a specialised training on how to assemble Improvised Explosive Devices and suicide mission techniques.
Most recent coalition attacks: Niger
An ISWAP cell under the command of one Mallam Ali has been sighted in hard to reach areas in Niger Republic key areas such as Lelewa, Duwa, Wallal and Pepewa. On May 3, 2020, ISWAP launched its regional coordinated attack on a military base in Diffa Province, Niger Republic under the command of one Mustapha Kirimama and Amir Modu Kafa, for the first time. The video tape showed the joint attack was launched under the direct supervision of AZWAJ/ISIS in Libya. A MNJTF offensive from Niger and Nigeria later intercepted the retreating jihadist along the Niger-Nigeria borders, killing more than 50 jihadists and destroying looted gun trucks.
The bitter splits and confusion that divided JAS Boko Haram and ISWAP camps has been plastered temporarily for what appears to be a common purpose. A split partly influenced by the sustained land, aerial and amphibious offensive from states of the regional MNJTF. These counter insurgency military battlefield efforts need to be comprehensively coordinated and sustained from the ongoing onslaught of “Operation LAFIYA DOLE” to the recent “Operation Boma Wrath” and the existing MNJTF “Operation ‘YANCIN TAFKI.” Boko Haram and ISWAP jihadists factions operate complex network cells within the states of the Lake Chad basin. Each country in the region has the potential capacity to militarily defeat jihadist in-country, but no single state can defeat jihadist within the region. If rival jihadists groups can sacrifice leadership and operational differences and put their perceived differences aside to engage in a common tactic, the forces of law and order, the security and armed forces of the MNJTF can look beyond rivalry and coordinate a strategic multi-level approach that will put an end to jihadist activities in the region, at least on the battlefield.
About the Author: David Otto is a Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime Expert. He is a Certified Anti Terrorism Specialist, Certified Master Anti Terrorism Specialist and programme trainer with the Anti Terrorism Accreditation Board. Twitter @ottotgs.