The Nigerian military is claiming a victory over jihadist insurgents in the Lake Chad area after a three-week operation in December that killed 22 terrorists.
The 10,000-man Joint Multinational Task Force (MNJTF) dispersed insurgents of both the Boko Haram group and its stronger rival, the ISWAP terrorist group, during an operation code-named Sharan Fague (which means “sweep” in the Hausa language), officials said. Both groups claim allegiance to ISIS. The joint task force for the operation drew troops from the Nigerian army and the military of the Republic of Niger.
“Tactically, ISWAP cells and the groups linked with Bakoura faction of former Boko Haram JAS group operate predominantly along the borders of Niger and Nigeria,” David Otto, director of counterterrorism for the Geneva Centre of African Security and Strategic Studies, told The Epoch Times.
Since the death by suicide blast on May 24, 2021, of Boko Haram’s top leader, ISWAP forces have pressured members of the Boko Haram faction to affiliate with them. Hundreds have surrendered to the Nigerian military, while scores have relocated to Nigeria’s northwestern states.
“With the current bitter rivalry and infighting between these factions over territory, any joint aerial and land MNJTF led operations could further destabilize the operational capacity of the jihadists,” Otto said. “The operations are well-timed.”
The operation, which ended Dec. 21, 2021, likely signals a turning point in the 11-year war with Boko Haram, a spokesman for the task force told The Epoch Times.
“In the course of this operation, 22 Boko Haram terrorists were neutralized, five of their gun trucks destroyed, five motorcycles and several logistic bunkers were destroyed, while eight AK47 rifles were recovered,” Col. Muhammad Dole, a MNJTF spokesman, told The Epoch Times from the force’s headquarters in N’Djamena, Chad.
“Regrettably, six members of the JTF (two officers and four other ranks) from both countries paid the supreme sacrifice in the line of duty, with about 16 wounded in action.”
Seventeen Boko Haram suspects were arrested and are being questioned.
The multinational force said it received “massive support” from air assets and surveillance equipment–enabling it to successfully clear enemy hideouts in and around the corridor linking Nigeria and Niger on the lake’s shore.
“Troops met strong resistance from the terrorists, who launched several mortar attacks, laid Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) along the troops’ route of advance and further attacks with Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs),” Dole told The Epoch Times.
“However, the troops brought superior fire power to bear on the insurgents forcing them to abandon their enclaves.”
The region around Lake Chad—a vast lake bordered by Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad—has been a stronghold for Boko Haram and ISIS-linked jihadists for a decade.
The Multinational Joint Task Force is an effort by the Lake Chad basin states, plus Benin, to pool resources against jihadists that threaten all of those countries. The MNJTF is under the political leadership of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and mandated by the African Union Peace and Security Council. The joint force has carried out periodic operations, often involving troops from one country fighting in a neighboring nation.
The latest operation created adequate security for the Republic of Niger to celebrate on Dec. 18 its founding 63 years ago—the first such celebration in years—according to a statement by the joint task force.
The task force commander, Maj. Gen Abdul Khalifah Ibrahim, during a visit to Niger on Dec. 29, commended the “uncommon display of gallantry, professionalism, and courage” of the troops who have taken the fight to the terrorists.
“He promised to mobilize more equipment and other operational enablers to the sectors,” Col. Dole told The Epoch Times.
“He said a lot still needs to be done, but this was a good starting point. He declared 2022 as a year of decision for the MNJTF as he vowed to uproot the criminals from their hideouts in the lake.”
The Lake Chad enclave along the Nigeria–Niger border is the heart of the Boko Haram/ISWAP operational base, and displacing the jihadists along this porous border and boundary area is key to eliminating the insurgency, Otto said.
“Boko Haram operations can be likened to acute cancer, unfortunately, a very adaptive jihadist group – they have spread their tentacles online, in the cities and in the bushes,” said Otto.
“They are everywhere but appear nowhere.”
He said the timing of Operation Sharan Fague was “strategic,” given that Boko Haram and ISWAP currently are off-balance and have been reduced to a mere shadow of themselves, as compared to previous years.
The Boko Haram Islamist sectarian movement was founded in 2002 in northeastern Nigeria. Since 2009, the group has carried out large-scale acts of violence. Studies show Boko Haram has killed more unarmed civilians than ISIS in Iraq and Syria combined.
Eradicating jihadists in the Lake Chad region will require the MNJTF to embark on a structured combination of genuine partnership and timely intelligence-sharing, Otto told The Epoch Times.
“Shooting a terrorist without killing the hunger and ignorance that pushes men and women to join is not going to end the insurgency any time soon,” he said.