Buhari starts counter-terror strategy campaign

Nigeria's president made a campaign promise to crush Boko Haram, starting with moving the military command center from Abuja, which is hundreds of kilometers away from the violent insurgency’s epicenter

Buhari starts counter-terror strategy campaign

World Bulletin / News Desk 

Of all 174 campaign promises made by recently-inaugurated President Muhammadu Buhari, none has received more attention than his stated resolve to crush the Boko Haram militant group in Nigeria's volatile northeast.

In a May 29 inaugural speech, Buhari said Nigeria’s military command-and-control center, for a start, could no longer remain in capital Abuja, hundreds of kilometers from the main theater of the violent insurgency plaguing the flashpoint states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe.

“The most immediate [threat] is Boko Haram’s insurgency,” Buhari said. “Progress has been made in recent weeks by our security forces, but victory cannot be achieved by basing the command-and-control center in Abuja.”

“The command center will be relocated to Maiduguri and remain [there] until Boko Haram is completely subdued,” he added.

In an apparent confirmation of the president’s assertions, army spokesman Col. Sani Usman announced Monday morning that the military command-and-control center for “Operation Zaman Lafiya” – an anti-Boko Haram operation currently underway by the army – "has moved to Maiduguri, [regional capital of] Borno state”.

While the center is expected to serve as the main command base for the country's chief of army staff, a defense source told Anadolu Agency that the Nigerian Air Force chief and his team – in a parallel move – were planning to relocate to Yola, regional capital of Adamawa State, where they would coordinate air operations.

“The army chief will serve from Borno, while the chief of air staff will relocate to Yola this week," according to the source, who insisted on anonymity.

Usman appeared to confirm this in Monday’s statement, saying: "An alternate command center is also being established in Yola."

Similar drastic steps have been taken against the militants in recent years – but with little success. In May 2013, then-president Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in all three states in a bid to rein in the notorious militant group.

That measure, which lasted six months during its first phase and saw heavy army deployments, was renewed twice. Nevertheless, the militants only appeared to grow in strength, especially after early 2014.

And by late February of this year, the militants had managed to seize at least 20 of the flashpoint region’s local government areas – territory equal in size to Belgium.

Some local observers, therefore, are asking: what difference – if any – will the army’s latest strategic changes make?

Kemi Okenyodo, executive director of the CLEEN Foundation, a Nigerian NGO that promotes public safety, security and social justice, said Buhari was right to order the relocation of the army high command to the counterterrorism campaign’s main theater of operations.

"I believe the [relocation] directive was in order. The military command cannot be giving instructions or assessing the situation when they are not on the ground in Maiduguri," she said.

"Challenges on the ground are better understood when the military high command is seeing such challenges first hand. Ideally, in a war situation, the military command should be where the activity is,” Okenyodo added.

Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, executive director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center, agreed with this assessment, saying that Buhari – a former military commander himself – was right to change strategy.

"The president is a former military man," Rafsanjani told Anadolu Agency. “He is a former head of state with a security background. He talked from experience... I think he was right.”

"We cannot afford to have a disconnect between soldiers in the field and their commanders," he added.

Not everyone, however, believes the strategic changes were needed.

"I don’t think it was necessary – or even strategic – to have moved the military command," Mazi Okwu Okwu, a public affairs analyst and newspaper columnist, told Anadolu Agency. "Nigeria did a similar thing during the Biafra war, and it almost cost Nigeria the war.

“What is required to win the war against Boko Haram… is good intelligence-gathering,” he said. “We should move the directorate of military intelligence – instead of the entire command – and give them the necessary backing to succeed.”

The announced strategic changes come as Boko Haram appears to be making a comeback, following months of seeing their strongholds bombarded by the Nigerian army and after being dislodged from numerous towns and villages they had seized previously.

In recent weeks, the group has carried out attacks across the restive northeastern region, killing dozens of people in suicide bombings that have struck both military and civilian targets.

Last Mod: 09 Haziran 2015, 14:25
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