Since Boko Haram’s 15 April kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls from the city of Chibok in northeast Nigeria, the security situation in the troubled Borno state has been on the decline. According to recent reporting, Boko Haram has continued to conduct a series of attacks throughout its northeastern stronghold, killing at least 200 people and as many as 500 in the past week alone.
In light of this recent activity, various regional news outlets are slowly reporting the details surrounding Boko Haram’s attacks. While information from the region remains conflicting at best due to widespread communications blackouts and the remote nature of the attack locations, some corroborating information regarding Boko Haram’s tactics is becoming more identifiable.
The identifiable factors surrounding Boko Haram’s attacks may be preliminary at this stage, but remain important factors to take into consideration as more significant counter-Boko Haram operations are initiated. As recent reporting indicates, these factors are yet to be successfully countered by Nigerian Army forces, which continue to struggle to eradicate Boko Haram and its influence from the region.
Location and Communications
As SOFREP has previously reported, Boko Haram maintains extensive freedom of movement in its historic northeastern stronghold, oftentimes taking full advantage of its widespread and widely dispersed nature.
This extensive freedom of movement Boko Haram enjoys is a direct result of the physical dispersal of population centers throughout the region, with many isolated villages scattered throughout. Coupled with significantly limited communications capabilities (a result of the state of emergency and government control over telecommunications towers, GSM being the primary form of communication), villagers have no expedient method by which to alert or inform nearby villages of their situation. Likewise, the Nigerian government remains unable to rapidly and effectively mount any significant reaction force to any attacks, which they may or may not even be aware had occurred.
When conducting near-simultaneous attacks in multiple villages in the region, Boko Haram relies on the remote nature of the villages to ensure successful outcomes, outcomes that result in the slaughtering of as many villagers as possible during an attack. In order to accomplish this, it has been reported that Boko Haram members enter the villages overtly, without any attempts to gain surreptitious access to their attack locations beforehand.
Garb and Vehicles
Wearing various forms of military garb, Boko Haram enters attack locations in a series of vehicle convoys consisting primarily of Toyota Hilux pickup trucks and motorcycles. It is significant to note that Hilux’s are a common vehicle used in the region by security and military forces as well. This similarity is one that Boko Haram has been reported to have taken advantage of when first arriving at two of their recent attack locations.
According to recent reporting, upon entering a village prior to an attack, the villagers are informed that the Boko Haram convoy is comprised of Nigerian military forces there to protect the local population. Having just recently requested military and security assistance, and without any secure or expedient communications systems in place with which to verify this claim, Boko Haram is able to overtly enter the village without any resistance and earn the preliminary trust of the local population. This same tactic was employed in the town of Chibok on 15 April prior to abducting the 200-odd schoolgirls present there.
Massive Public Gathering and Initial Attack
In order to conduct their attack and ensure maximum casualties, the largest number of villagers possible are gathered together in a single location. This is accomplished by claiming that various teachings of Islam are to be shared or preached by the Boko Haram members. This often takes place in the village center, the village mosque, or other common facility in the villages, and is performed by a small group of militants. Once the majority of villagers in the community have assembled, the main element of Boko Haram members located at the periphery of the groups open fire with any assortment of small arms weapons available, most often AK weapon systems. Reports of IEDs and petrol bombs have also been reported but remain unconfirmed or corroborated.
Once Boko Haram opens fire, handfuls of villagers are usually able to escape the initial gunfire and evade to other parts of the village. In order to ensure these individuals are denied movement outside the village, Boko Haram positions militants outside the villages on motorcycles, who interdict and terminate any survivors. This tactic is the very same employed in Boko Haram’s latest attack which killed almost fifty villagers in Bargari village in Borno state several days earlier.
The Way Ahead
In conducting these attacks, Boko Haram has demonstrated its ability to take advantage of the poor communication among villages, between Nigerian security and military forces and Nigerian citizens, as well as the various units working to counter Boko Haram’s freedom of movement in the region. Boko Haram’s use of vehicles similar to Nigerian military forces to overtly enter their attack locations aptly demonstrates this problem.
Due to the government control over telecommunications, it remains to be seen how the Nigerian military will work to reduce the massive vulnerabilities experienced by the many isolated villages scattered throughout the northeast, many of whom lack significant situational awareness of the surrounding area. Until communication flow, awareness, and education regarding Boko Haram tactics are shared with the isolated population centers in the region, the terror group will remain capable of conducting so many consistently successful attacks against an unknowing and vulnerable populace.
Thanks for listening.
Feature image courtesy of AFP.