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Defeating insurgency, banditry: Beyond the call for weapons

By Charles Onunaiju

Since the recent upsurge in the nefarious activities of insurgents, bandits, kidnappers, and other assorted range of anti-social felons, the call for more arms and ammunition, including the latest military weaponry, have grabbed vintage headlines.

It is generally assumed that obsolete and inappropriate weapons have been the major reasons why the Boko Haram insurgency, now in its eleventh year, is recently gathering more steam when ordinarily the delusional insurgents should have been in disarray. When the humongous sum of one billion U.S dollars was yanked off, from the special excess crude account, the reason was to access the latest weapons to deal fatal blows to the insurgents and hobble the then, creeping banditry. The recent interview granted to the BBC Hausa service by the National Security Adviser, General Monguno (Rtd) alleging that neither the weapons nor the monies could be traced, in reference to the tenures of former service chiefs who are now ambassador-designates, have raised concerns in several quarters on the nexus between the renewed vigour of insurgency and the alleged under-performance of the military as a result of alleged obsolete weaponry.

However, while there are certainly and obvious corollary between a well-equipped military and the success of its mission, well-equipped militaries with a deficit of well-honed intelligence, morale and discipline can fall before a well-disciplined, properly supplied insurgents with a close-knit and integrated intelligence network.

It is well-known fact, even among ordinary people, that engaging insurgents by a formal military is asymmetric warfare where established rules of war are barely non-existent. The strategic objectives of insurgents change as rapidly as in the light of their opportunities and constraints, which varies with their battlefield experiences. They may never wish to occupy definitive territory but would certainly grab territories if opportunities present it and would never consider concomitant loss of such territory as strategic loss or weakness but a tactical retreat, which enables them to seek any opportunity that can arise from another encounter. Because of the strategic ambiguity of the insurgents, especially of the Boko Haram type that does not fight for any tangible, practical, and even realisable outcomes, it is hard to measure their gains, losses or the state of their morale. Their mere survival and ability to wreak occasional havoc might be all they care for. In the circumstances of engaging such cruel, benumbed and elusive enemy, only one option is strategically vital to its defeat and destruction, and which is precisely to locate and destroy the human and material supply lines through which it re-stocks and replenishes  its forces.

And in the specific context of cutting off, the supply lines to the insurgents and bandits, amassing the latest military weaponry is neither very urgent nor existentially relevant. And to break in, to the command structure of the insurgents is neither a function of sophisticated weaponry nor the combat proficiency of troops in the battle field. And this is not in anywhere belittling what sophisticated weapons can do in the battlefield. But the fact remained, that as long as the insurgents are restocked and replenished with human and material supplies, the number of their fighters decimated and weapons destroyed will not put them in disarray or force their surrender, the two key objectives by which insurgency can be humbled and eliminated.

Boko Haram recent nefarious exploits including the notorious ambush of military convoy in Auno and massacre of rice farmers were ostensible outcomes of efficient intelligence maneouvre in which the insurgents reaped strategic military gains.

Even bandits who have scored notorious points in storming schools and effectively kidnapping and evacuating their victims are evidently, the result of their coherent leadership, discipline and efficient intelligence network. For the Boko Haram insurgency that has ran for 11 years in a stretch, it is shocking that Nigeria’s intelligence service have not been able to break into its leadership and command structure.

It is not the failure of the combatant troops that Boko Haram still enjoys the flow of weapons, motor vehicles which are obviously serviced and fueled, gets supplies of money and food with which the fighters are fed, paid and maintained, even while not controlling any territory according to the government narratives. If Boko Haram does not control any territory and which appears to be the case, where is then, their ammunition dump, barracks and cantonment, where it parks its motorized guns and even the convoys of trucks with which it abducts victims. If 10 years down the line in the martial combat between the Nigeria military and insurgents, these questions cannot be answered, then the Nigeria’s intelligence community, including the Directorate of military intelligence, Department of State Service, Nigeria Intelligence Agency and even the Police intelligence unit cannot justify their existence and the nation resources expended to maintain them.

These are crucial questions only intelligence can resolve. Without intruding into the cell, leadership and command structures of the insurgents and bandits, with the sole aim to locate and disrupt their supply lines, no amount of sophisticated weapons can sufficiently rattle the criminals, let alone bringing them to their heels.

To get a better understanding of the seemingly resilience of the Boko Haram insurgency, it might be pertinent to take a look at the evolution of their armed engagement. They started off ‘ with makeshift and improvised explosive device, which they needed a fast-moving vehicle packed with the explosives to ram at their targets to produce a massive explosion.

At the time, the American western military alliance, NATO destabilized Libya and let its heavy armoury to fall apart, the group got their hands on sophisticated equipment. And following, also, the American led military project of regime-change in Syria, using extremist local proxies, the monster of the Islamic State was created, which gave new impetus to Boko Haram, with trainers, money, and equipment, helping the transformation of the insurgent from a local angry extremists to sophisticated armed combatants.

For a shadowy sophisticated armed group, well entrenched in its terrain and brutally terrorising the local population into unwilling accomplice or forced into passive neutrality, gunning them into submission is simply, a pipe dream, which the former Army chief, General Buratai modestly put at an interval of 20 years before they can be defeated.

Like the Nigerian civil war, in which the Biafrans were humbled by cutting all supply lines, thereby forcing their surrender through the weapon of hunger, Mr. Shekau and his belligerent innermost circle would surrender in a month if they cannot find food or weapon to entertain the illusion of their medieval empire. And the same goes for the menacing and roving bandits.

Mr. Onunaiju is research director of an Abuja-based Think Tank.