Nigeria + 3 more

A Thousand Soldiers Less (January 2020)

The escalation of bloody insurgency in Nigeria's Northeast region to neighbouring countries of Niger, Cameroon and Chad resulted in the creation of the Joint Multinational Taskforce (MNJTF), a military unit dedicated to fighting terrorism in the Lake Chad region. Under the political leadership of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and mandated by the AU Peace and Security Council (AU PSC), for several months, the MNJTF made up of military forces from Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad, including troops from the Benin Republic, have waged war against the menacing Jihadists. The regional cooperation, coupled with the efforts of the Civilian Joint Taskforce (C-JTF) and other local nonstate armed groups in the area, hugely reduced the activities of terrorists in the region within the past few years. Despite the efforts of the MJTF, the Jihadists still terror on the military and civilian population in the area, thereby questioning the claim by Nigeria that the menacing Boko Haram insurgents have been technically defeated.

The recent action by Chad ending its regional military mission in the fight against Boko Haram in the Lake Chad region by withdrawing of its 1,200 strong force across the border, may prove disastrous for the entire sub-region. This means that Nigeria and other military contributors towards the war against terror are 1,200 soldiers less in counter-terrorism operations. According to the Chadian Minister of Defense Bissa Ichara, the troops were being redeployed to protect Chad's northern border with Libya. Regardless of the status of the insurgency, the sudden pullout of the Chadian forces will likely impact on counter-terrorism operations. For the fact that the insurgency is an ideologically-driven war, it requires strategic decisions that will not hamper the efforts of the government(s) forces in the war-zone. Media reports reveal that Nigeria government are also planning to withdraw troops from some parts of the conflict zone, and this has sparked a mass movement of the local people in fear of attacks by the insurgents. Is the Chadian decision the right thing to do given the circumstances?

Although, the Chadian forces reveal that the months-long mission has ended and have also reiterated their willingness to send more troops if the collaborating countries agree, the pullout is arguably untimely. Over the years, Boko Haram, and recently, its splinter group, Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) have been linked to the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIL). In October 2019, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIL, was killed during a raid by US forces in Syria. His demise and the emergence of Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi as the new leader has sparked concerns of a possible reawakening of insurgents in the Northeast region. Recently, 11 Nigerian Christians were beheaded by ISWAP members in retaliation to the death of its ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The new ISIL leader comes with new drive and war tactics to push the Jihadist agenda, and these features will likely be transferred to its West African affiliates such as ISWAP, and could further solidify the resolve of other Jihadist groups operating in other parts of the Sahel. Also, within the past few weeks, there have a series of terrorists' attack in the region. For instance, several people were killed in a bomb explosion today in Gamboru, Borno state.

Consequently, there is a need to consolidate joint military efforts in the region, invest in actionable intelligence that will help in combating renewed activities of the Jihadists in the war zone. In this regard, the Chadian pullout appears to be on the contrary to these valid concerns. The volatility of the area requires a slow withdrawal of troops with a comprehensive situational analysis of the conditions on the ground.