By: Kingsley Omonobi,
Head Investigations-Abuja For the war on Boko Haram in the North East, to be successfully completed, “the military command in the war on terror must adopt precision attacks on enemy targets and introduce new tactics”.
Former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd), while making the suggestion in a condolence message to the people of Borno over the accidental NAF air strike at an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camp, at Rann, Kala-Balge LGA, in Borno State, Tuesday, noted, however, that this sort of ugly incident happens in conflict zones across the world, even among the most sophisticated military alliances like cases of “friendly fires” between the United States military and its allies in Afghanistan.
Before the final onslaught on ‘Camp Zairo’ the administrative and operational headquarters of Boko Haram, located in the heart of the 60, 000 square kilometer-stretch that is Sambisa Forest, the federal government asked military high command to carry out a reappraisal of the war on terror and what was required to mount the final push.
The military authorities made some recommendations of what was needed to prosecute the war to its logical conclusion, especially as it pertained to destroying the abode of the Commanders inside Sambisa.
Sunday Vanguard investigations showed that the Army, Air Force and the Navy made submissions to government on needed weaponry vis-a vis, artillery and mine sweeping/desert armoured personnel carriers among others for the army; and fighter, surveillance and logistics aircraft for the Nigeria Airforce among others.
For those who may wonder why the Navy is being mentioned in this war, it should be noted that all along, the Navy has not only been contributing troops to the ground offensive of Operation Lafiya Dole, it has also deployed its gunboats and Regimental Ratings in the Forward Operations Base in Riverine areas in Lake Chad, for blockade of Boko Haram terrorists either fleeing Sambisa and other parts of the north east, or checkmating the influx of mercenaries into the north east from Chad, Niger, up to Sudan and Libya.
However, a crucial and sensitive arm of the armed forces whose active and relentless participation in the operation depended largely on its ability to apply air power in ensuring accomplishment of the mission, is the Nigerian Air Force.
Sunday Vanguard gathered that submissions made by the NAF to the federal government for procurement of the aircraft types needed in the counter insurgency and terrorism operations could not be procured.
In particular, the ‘Super Tucano Utility Aircraft’, which is armour plated, specially constructed for insurgency operation that can fly at both high and low altitude, with night vision equipment, was recommended to government for procurement from the United States of America to prosecute the battle to annihilate Boko Haram from Sambisa.
However, US government did not only block its sale to Nigeria, it equally blocked other Western European Countries from selling aircraft types similar in function to Nigeria on the grounds that human rights bodies like Amnesty International, AI, had repeatedly accused the Nigerian military of, not only extra-judicial killings, but violating its own rules of engagement in the war against Boko Haram.
The irony in this, insiders disclosed to Sunday Vanguard, is the allegation that some of those who had earlier provided false information to, as well as motivated AI to embarrass the government of Nigeria, are today sympathisers of the present administration.
One of the handicaps in the battle to dislodge terrorists had been the poor visibility in the area, especially with the hamarttan and hazy cloudy weather conditions that make it difficult for flying.
Another was the unpleasant experience occurred when NAF aircrafts were hit by Anti-Aircraft (AA) gun fire during operations, leading to some fatal air crashes and destruction of multi-million dollar aircrafts. A good example occurred in September 2015, when Boko Haram shot down an Alpha Jet registered NAF 466. The Pilot, Wing Commander Chimda Hedima, was later beheaded on October 15, 2015 when the wreckage of the airforce jet was later shown in a Boko Haram video.
According to military sources, two Squadron and half, (30 Super Tucano fighter aircraft) were to be acquired for the NAF. Had the Americans not turned down the federal government’s request, this would have helped in no small measure to quickly contain some of the challenges associated with aircraft mishaps since the war on terror began.
Owing to its inability to acquire this weaponry, the NAF had no choice than to fall back on the Alpha jets and F-7NI fighter jets.
These aircraft are very fast, are not meant to fly low and are supposed to be long range in operations. Flying them low will be at great risk not only to the aircraft but to the pilot who definitely has the number one priority of not getting brought down by Boko Haram anti-aircraft gun or rocket propelled grenade launchers.
The F-7NI, for instance, is the Chinese model of the American made F-16 supersonic fighter jet. It can move with the speed of light and its attack functions only takes seconds to strike targets.
The alpha jets, on their part, which were reconfigured and rehabilitated due to the ingenuity of Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar and his team in the face of equipment challenge, are also fast attack jets, but cannot fly low for operations because of the dangers of being brought down.
But not given to excuses, Air Marshal Abubakar and his men embarked on improvisation, planting night vision equipment where it did not exist, arming unarmed aircraft among others, leading to deployment of the F7NI supersonic attack jets, Alpha Jets for target attack, Mi35 Helicopter gunships for precision clear out, Mi-17 attack helicopters and Super-Puma patrol and rescue aircraft.
Also deployed were the two reconfigured ballistic defence capability aircraft recently collected from the presidential air fleet.
A military source told Sunday Vanguard: “For one week, prior to ground troops advance, the surveillance and pounding operation continued and this enabled the about 4000 ground troops backed by artillery weaponry and mine clearance armoured tanks to navigate the six accessibility sectors through which the Camps of the Commanders were brought down. The acquisition and recent induction of the Super Mushshak aircraft from Pakistani Airforce into the NAF that were used for pre-offensive training prepared the fighter pilots for the nature of the operation”.
It is against this plethora of challenges that the unfortunate bombing of Rann IDP camp ocured, leading to the death of scores of IDP’s including foreign aid workers of the International Red Cross, ICRC, and Medicines Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders), and brings to fore the importance of acquiring necessary and required weaponry for the nation’s armed forces.
The deployment of the Alpha jets and F7 fighter jets had long before now, performed creditably due to the professionalism and capacity of Nigerian Airforce pilots to improvise and adjust to the economic situation of the country.
Hence when the Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, Major General Lucky Irabor, who was in order to give the command to strike at a location where scores of Boko Haram terrorists were re-grouping, as confirmed by the ‘Grid Coordinate’ of Intelligence and Surveillance flights, as well as several land reconnaissance reports, he could not have deliberately made the order with the fatal consequence.