Note: This is part two of a series. You can read part one here.
Over the past several months, South African private military contractors have been training a Nigerian strike force and have integrated them into their unit during combat operations against Boko Haram.
STTEP, a private military company (PMC) on the ground in Nigeria, was asked for assistance and was subcontracted to the Nigerian government by a primary contractor after they’d heard good things about the company’s reputation. Arrangements like this are fraught with difficulties, as disagreements can and do arise between the primary contractors, the subcontractor, and the host nation. This relationship has proven fruitful thus far, however; recent battlefield successes speak for themselves.
The chairman of STTEP, Eeben Barlow, reports, “Our relationship with the Nigerian government and the Nigerian Armed Forces is very good, and as fellow Africans, they recognize the value we have added thus far at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels.”
In mid-December of 2014, STTEP was contracted to deploy to Nigeria. Their mission was to train a mobile strike force to rescue the Chibok school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. When the terrorists abducted over 250 schoolgirls, it drew international media attention and put the ‘Nigerian Taliban’ on the map. Michelle Obama responded to the kidnapping with a perfectly ineffective social-media campaign driven by the Twitter hashtag #bringbackourgirls.
An advanced party of South African military veterans working for STTEP landed in Nigeria by early January of 2015. Instead of social-media activism, they held a selection program for the elite Nigerian military unit they were to train while the main body of STTEP began to arrive. “It is a mobile strike force with its own organic air support, intelligence, communications, logistics, and other relevant combat support elements,” said Barlow. He declined to name the unit they were training, but an open source investigation strongly suggests this unit is the 72 Strike Force.
By the time the main body of STTEP contractors arrived, the selection process for the Nigerian strike force was complete and training was able to commence immediately. “We built it from scratch,” Barlow explained, “and were able to, in a very short space of time, get it combat ready. The results this force achieved, along with the support of the Nigerian Army, are indeed remarkable.”
STTEP trained the Nigerian strike force in mounted and dismounted tactics with an emphasis on operational flexibility, which was tailored toward the unit’s specific mission. “I think we sometimes gave them [Nigerian military] gray hairs, as we were forever begging for equipment, ammunition, and so forth,” Barlow said as they conducted training in a remote area. “But, the credit in this instance goes to the chief instructor and his men, who implemented the training.”
The South Africans trained their Nigerian counterparts in the tactics, techniques, and procedures that they had practiced and refined on the battlefield since South Africa’s conflicts in the 1980s, including Barlow’s concept of relentless pursuit (which will be explored in a future article).
Meanwhile, Boko Haram was experiencing an increase in operational tempo and achieving successes in their area of operations. The militants captured Gwoza and established a base there in August, followed by the border town of Malam Fatori in November and Baga in January near Lake Chad. By early January of 2015, Boko Haram was estimated to have control over 20,000 square miles of territory.
With this in mind, STTEP’s mission quickly transitioned from training a rescue unit to training a rapidly deploying mobile strike force, and mentoring those they trained in the field. “By late February, the strike force conducted its first highly successful operational deployment,” Barlow said.
The prevailing sentiment about groups like ISIS and Boko Haram is that they are Islamic fanatics—end of story. But this explanation may be intellectually lazy. Nigeria faces a stark north-south divide. While southern Nigeria received a large amount of foreign direct investment (FDI), the north did not—resulting in a substantive economic disparity within the country. “Whereas FDI is positively related to the oil sector, it is negatively related to agriculture and manufacturing,” concludes Adegbemi Babatunde Onakoya of Tai Solarin University of Education in Nigeria. The map below shows where Nigeria’s oil fields are in the south, while their agrarian base is in the north.
Driven by poverty and the quest for power, “Boko Haram are a bunch of armed thugs who have used religion as the glue to hold their followers together, and who use murder, kidnapping, and terror to force cooperation from the local population,” Barlow said. “Boko Haram feeds off terror generated by kidnappings, murder, rape, infrastructure destruction, IEDs, and so forth. They are very effective when it comes to attacking innocent civilians. Murder, rape, and beheadings are common tactics they use to instill fear and force cooperation.”
The next installment explains Barlow’s approach to tactics. While the enemy employed terrorist tactics against civilians, STTEP used the concept of relentless pursuit against the terrorists.
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