Am Happy Commanding The Best Troops In The World – Chief Of Army Staff
In this interview, Lt General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, the Chief of Army Staff, COAS reveals it all on the war against Boko Haram-the challenges, his pains, the tactics and taste of victory.
Boko Haram insurgents took over some parts of this country before you came in. But as you came in, you promised to reclaim the captured territories and today even Sambisa Forest which is the fortress of the terrorists has been liberated. How did you managed this?
First of all, let us know that the military is an institution of the state especially under this democratic dispensation. We are tools in the hands of the democratic system where we take our strategic directives on national interests, to carry out our constitutional roles and this has been made very clear from day one when Mr. President was being inaugurated. To underscore his commitment to ending the Boko Haram insurgency, he directed that the military command and control centre be moved to the North-east so whatever followed including storming of Camp Zero in Sambisa Forest was derived from the political direction and strategic position of the president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. At the military strategic level, we will say that the position has been that of the defeat of the Boko Haram insurgents and indeed, all other issues arising from the insurgency. By and large, everything revolve around the leadership. The military leadership in this regards, having received the appropriate direction, from the commander-in-chief, we set out to implement that directive and we looked at it holistically in terms of what is the strategic disposition of North-east, strategic significance of the Boko Haram insurgents, what they stood for, their motivations, how has it been received and what is the disposition of the people in the North-east and what is the disposition of Nigerians generally, what is the disposition of international friends especially our neighbours. Having looked at all these, the first thing that needed to be done was to check the state of mind of the average soldier operating in the North-east and equally the state of mind of the officers and indeed soldiers in other parts of the country. So we undertook a visit to the theatre itself to see what is on ground, the state of mind, the morale of the men, what are their challenges, why were they behaving the way they behaved, what is missing. Our exploits in Liberia, Sierra-Leon and Sudan are all commendable. We met the morale of the troop so low, the desire for them to stand firm and defend themselves, the level of casualties that we have been receiving from the Boko Haram before this administration came on board, were extremely very high and these were very demoralizing. So we said we must change the trend and luckily, I visited few units and I saw the challenges. We had shortages of manpower, basic equipment and challenges of mobility. Also, there is haphazard deployment of the troops which were looked at. So we carried out brainstorming on how to look at the overall deployments, the gap that exists in the theatre. So having seen the moral aspect, we now look at the deployment aspect. We re-strategized and deployed appropriate troops to the appropriate location. We made some re-alignments and with that we are able to check the Boko Haram terrorists; we are able to block movements around the general areas of Alagarno up to the northern parts of Borno and those going to the south in Sambisa Forest. Having done that, we now moved to change the name of the operation itself from operation Zaman Lafiya to operation Lafiya Dole to indicate the level of seriousness and commitment with which we are going to handle that operation. After we launched the new operation, we commenced the clearing operation to regain the lost territory. The first directive I gave was to recover Dikwa. Dikwa is the second local government on the way to Gamborun-Ngala. Within two weeks from the date we launched the operation, we were able to enter Dikwa, captured it and consolidate the town and environs. After two months, we moved into capture Gamborun-Ngala. So having revived the morale of the troop, having addressed some of the challenges which included injection of more mobility, provision of new kitting and equipment, we set the ball rolling towards the eventual position that we are today. The capture of Camp Zero is not the end of our efforts. The insurgents are on the run, moving from one point to the other and our troops are pursuing them. Some of the intermittent attacks that you are seeing is the desperate moves by the terrorists. We have blocked all their logistic routes, their main supply area. Despite the pockets of attacks, we are moving on and we are closing in on with them. God’s willing, we will get them. This is not possible for the army or the military to do that alone. All other security agencies are key to the eventual clearance of the remnants of the Boko Haram. It is not an issue that a single service can handle. All the successes recorded have been done in conjunction with other services.
Despite the military celebrating victory over the insurgents, we still see pockets of attacks here and there and incidents of kidnapping of people who are said to be taken to Sambisa Forest. If the place has been freed, why are the terrorists still taking hostages there?
Probably, your understanding of what Sambisa Forest looks likes it is different. The forest is over 60,000sqr kilometer and Camp Zero is just one area of the forest. There are several other camps that we have to clear and when you look at the terrain, it’s very vast and there are different forests. As I said earlier, the insurgents are desperate and are trying to show that they are still relevant that is why you see some of these attacks. Our deployment is also one area that you may have to look at it critically because it is not possible to deploy in every inch of the area. We are targeting specific areas and routes where these insurgents are following, and the way they operate. We are still studying their patterns, especially in this phase where they are scattered and no longer concentrated in one particular place. They are now scattered in different locations so based on that, they come and strike and hide. This is an issue that we are working on it. We have said that they are on the run. They come and strike at some weak points or some isolated areas, but by and large, this is not an issue that the military is not capable of handling or that the terrorist are still wielding any significant control over any other place. It is a situation that we will continue to pursue and ensure that we get them out of the way. As for the Sambisa Forest, we are there that’s why we are planning to have our small arms championship there this year. When you visit there, you will appreciate the huge challenges. These issue of armed robbery, kidnapping and so on has been with us for months. I see this phase of the Boko Haram terrorists as merely criminal activities. We need to look at it critically and say yes, they have been degraded and defeated. What is remaining now is for them to even find means of living and instead of them surrendering, they are using some criminal means to search for food and attack convoys at vulnerable points. This is more or less of criminal nature rather than the insurgency itself. I think one point that people must note is that rather than glorifying them as insurgents, they should be termed as criminals.
One of the major crimes committed by the Boko Haram insurgents is the abduction of the over 200 Chibok School girls. As we talk, a large number of them are still held captive by the group. From the military’s perspective, what is the fate of the remaining Chibok girls?
We are still hoping that they will be rescued. We are not giving up. Definitely we are not and every day, we continue to rescue more and more of the people abducted. The abductees are being released on a daily basis, some of them are escaping on their own. We are still hopeful and we will continue to carry out our operations until we get everybody out.
Beyond using the military strategy, what other forms of engagements is the military adopting?
There is a wrong notion in respect of this challenge of national security. The issue of terrorism and insurgency is not entirely a military responsibility and the solution to it is not entirely a military solution. The fight against insurgency is not entirely the fight of the military and the terrorist. It requires involvement of the overall national asset, the national power and indeed, the role of individuals in the society. It is a comprehensive approach that should be taken. The military aspect is just one and you will agree with me that we have done a lot and we have succeeded. From where we were in 2015 to date, the difference is clear. If you look at the level of casualty, from the civilian perspectives for instance, in those days, every day you see abduction and attacks, but today, we have been rescuing on a daily basis and when you see the internally displaced persons’ camp, we have them scattered across and in them are hundreds of thousands that have been rescued. In the military, the number of casualty we have incurred during the operation before July 2015 is so much but the rate of casualty whether killing, wounded or missing in actions, has been reduced from approximately 500 per cent to just about 10-20 per cent.
Have you been able to unravel the sponsors of Boko Haram?
You are supposed to even tell us who the sponsors are. We have other arms of government who should do that. The military were not called in until the situation deteriorated. It is not that other agencies are not working. They are working with us but it’s not our responsibility to tell you these are the sponsors. People need to report to the authority. It requires a comprehensive effort. The people have to do something also.
What is specifically required of the people?
It’s very obvious. These insurgents don’t operate in isolation. Some of these attacks and the IEDs that are planted, some of the people have been coerced, some of them have been threatened not to disclose it. But whether you disclosed it or not, you will be at the receiving end. Unfortunately, those that we expect to give us such information don’t do it either out of fear or sympathy for the insurgents. It’s a major problem. However, we are making arrests and in conjunction with other security agencies, we continue to make arrests. People need to come out, condemn the act and support the security agencies. Sometimes some media houses, online especially, publish information about the military that embolden the terrorists. Some of these reports boost their morale as they use it as propaganda. The most unfortunate thing is that 60 per cent of the terrorists are not Nigerians. The Rann incidence where the airforce mistakenly dropped some bombs was because the terrorists went there and a report of their movement was sent that’s why that incidence happened. Some of them were killed, one of them was captured and virtually all of them were Cameroonians or Chadians. The one that was captured couldn’t speak any of the Nigerian language.
Can we then link this issues of herdsmen attack to this foreign incursion? How did they get into the country? And are we not breeding another set of criminals who will continue to kill our people?
You know it better than me that we don’t have any border force and we have a very porous border. What you are saying is right. The cross border banditry has been for many years and the interaction between the border communities has been on for long. We don’t have checks among our borders and these are the major issues that need to be addressed seriously and on time too.
Will you advocate for the establishment of a border force?
We have already done that. We have made the case and some of our units that are deployed to the border try to do the needful to prevent any incursion into the country. They work in conjunction with para-military organisations. The issue of herder/farmers clash is an issue that has been on for long. It is not only the military that can address that. The leadership at the local level has significant role to play, the traditional rulers have very important roles to play, the local community leaders and even the individuals all have roles to play. On our part, we will do our best to ensure that the communities are protected.
The military is currently attending to different issues that threaten the peace of this country like the Boko Haram, the southern Kaduna killings, IPOB and the Niger Delta issue. Is the military overstretched?
You see, the military is brought up to perform these roles because of the level of confidence the people have on the army and the military generally; secondly because of the level of professionalism and level of patriotism of the military. We have discharged our responsibilities both professionally and patriotically with a lot of commitments. All our operation is in support of the civil authority. Though the strength of the army is not as much as the police and other paramilitary agencies but because of our level of commitment and professionalism, we have always been relied upon to address some of these security issues. I will not say the army is overstretched because we operate in all terrain and are found everywhere that we need to be. We have been trained to do that. But by and large, the military solution is not and cannot be the final solution. We require everybody to key-in to ensure that security is maintained. In the South-east, we were able to mobilise and for the first time in many years, the crime rate dropped drastically during the yuletide period. The exercise “Crocodile Smile” has been quite successful just like other operations in different parts of the country have been successful. As I said earlier, we are not overstretched but we cannot do it alone hence we carry paramilitary organisations along.
How were you able to restore peace in the Niger Delta and ensure the drastic reduction in the incidence of pipeline vandalism?
It was basically through the use of professionalism and the level of our commitments. It is an issue of criminality and sabotage to our national assets so we went in there with clear mandate to checkmate the criminal activities. We have both the capability and the requisite training. They have been making noise that the military is incapable of checkmating them, they have appeared severally with gun boats and weapons as if they are stronger than the Nigeria Army but in just few weeks of operations, they know our capability and with the combined efforts of the police, the navy and the airforce, we cleared them. We performed our duties professionally and in accordance with the terms of engagement.
Do you think military might is all that is needed to ensure lasting peace in the region?
I have never said that. Everybody need to come in. Dialogue option is very important. The role of traditional rulers to persuade their subjects in that regards is also key. So it is not only military might. Government’s effort in developing the area is also there. But where we are called in, we will move in. Where they pick up arms against the state, it’s no longer an issue of you sitting down and allowing them to inflict serious damage to our infrastructure.
What efforts are you making to ensure that your men at the war front enjoy at least, some minimum comforts?
War in itself is something that is not a luxury. You don’t find comfort in war situation that is one fact that all of us must know. In war situation, it cannot be rosy all through. There are so many challenges. And our training has always addressed the issue of discomfort that soldiers face during war situation. We are determined to provide the troop basic necessities. We have the best of administrative arrangements and we don’t allow our soldiers to suffer.
Any message to Nigerians and your troop?
I want to appreciate Nigerians for understanding and acknowledging our contribution to national defence and security. We appreciate that. Let them continue to support us in our efforts to keep our country safe and secure. We are committed and will do all our best to do Nigerians proud. The unity of Nigeria is not negotiable. Anywhere we are deployed, we will perform our duties professionally and ensure we defend human rights. As for the troops, I am happy that I am commanding the best troop in the world. They have done a great service to their country. We love them and they are our heroes. I salute their courage, determination and patriotism. I urge them to remain resolute in the face of the security challenges that we are facing as they are surmountable. I promised them a professionally responsive Nigerian Army and we have achieved that and we will continue to consolidate on that
Culled From LeadershipNG
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