Source: Daily Trust/allAfrica
The apparent insecurity in Borno State and some states of the North East parts of Nigeria occasioned by the activities of Boko Haram terrorists led to the establishment of a Joint Task Force codenamed JTF Operation Restore Order 1 in June 2011.
The mandate of the task force is to restore law and order to the north eastern part of Nigeria and Borno state in particular. The task force is composed of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Nigerian Police Force, Department of State Security, Nigerian Customs Service, Nigeria Immigration Service and Defence Intelligence Agency.
In the composition and mandate of the task force lie the endemic problems of command and control, logistics, welfare and the inherent danger of fighting in built-up areas, or what is often referred to in the military as urban warfare or operations.
It is likely that the Nigerian Army’s first major encounter with urban warfare at home was in the Niger Delta, South East kidnapping saga and, currently in Maiduguri and some states of north eastern Nigeria. Initially, it was obvious that the nation and its security agencies were unprepared to tackle contemporary security challenges, particularly terrorism.
However, things have changed as training in the Nigerian Army in particular is fashioned to combating current and emerging challenges.
Training and re-training in the Nigerian Army on anti- and counter- terrorism, special reconnaissance, information operation, management and training of personnel and associated equipment in close quarter combat, urban warfare, intelligence operation, amphibious operation, demolition and explosive breaching, tactical communication and civil/ military- relations are on the increase.
Moreover, the act of restoring law and order in trouble spots in itself is part of a training period for the participating troops.
Fighting in built-up areas is tasking, cumbersome and hazardous. There is limited view of space and fire, visibility and manoeuvrability is limited and ambush attrition loses are high. I was on patrol with JTF troops in Maiduguri aimed to fish out suspected members of Boko Haram and to recover arms, ammunition and explosives.
It was then I had a clear perception of how difficult and dangerous it is for troops to fight in built-up areas. Some of the terrorists hid in mosques, planted Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) by the sides of the mosques or inside churches, hid on rooftops, planted IEDs on our routes and shot through loopholes.
They clearly seemed to be conscious of our vehicle columns, are good flame throwers, have Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs), General Purpose Machine Guns and Alexander Kalashnikov (AK 47) rifles in their inventory. Buildings provide good sniping posts, while alleys, refuse dumps and sand filled streets are ideal for booby-traps. The nature of Maiduguri houses built close to each other with strong gates, tall walls serves as a parapet for the terrorists and a fort onto itself. There are also religious and cultural taboos where most of the houses are locked with « BA SHIGA (No Entry) inscription – a terrorist can easily mask himself with « abaya », the long flowing gown that covers the entire body.
As we tactically moved round the city, we could not see the men hiding inside the houses, behind the walls or rooftops. Efforts to insert the hard skin fighting vehicles could not hit the terrorists; moreover, collateral damage could not be eliminated when used, and so we jettisoned the idea. A few days later, we approached the targeted areas from two flanks and this time we assaulted differently and two notorious commanders of the terrorists were ambushed in the process.
The JTF understood that it now needed to « mouse hole « through each or most of the houses suspected of harbouring Boko Haram terrorists and root them out in close combat. The successes recorded were unimaginable as many obvious (because they were caught with weapons) and suspected terrorists were arrested and thousands of assorted ammunition and some arms and quantities of IEDs were recovered.
Our saving grace lies on the organization, quality and discipline of our troops. Despite obvious danger, troops remain solid, organised and nationalistic. Seeing us on the streets and corners of Baga Road, Budum, Bulunkutu, Dendal, Hausari, Jejeri, Monday Market, Pompomari, Railway
Quarters, Shehuri and Timber Market will make no one in doubt that we are determined to achieve the mission of the task force. Despite occasional skirmish, members of the public still go about their normal activities as the situation is under control. I am optimistic if the momentum is maintained and the government and Boko Haram terrorists commence frank and meaningful discussion, the crisis will soon end.
Lt Col Musa is the spokesman for Operation Restore Order 1, Borno State.
By Sagir Musa