Boko Haram Conflict Not A Proxy War — Report

This is despite conspiracy theories implying that the insurgent group may be receiving support from foreign governments for political reasons. On the contrary, this report maintains, a lot of their arms and ammunition is obtained forcefully from local military arsenals.

The Boko Haram insurgency, one of the longest conflicts in the Lake Chad region, is not a proxy war, hints a recently released study.

Already in its 12th year, the insurgency did not only take a deeper toll on human lives but also caused mass destruction on a vast portion of the Lake Basin region. 

From a rag-tag army wielding Dane guns, clubs, and machetes, the Boko Haram fighters had within the last decade transformed to one of the deadliest terror groups in the world. Between 2014 and 2016, the terror group controlled vast territories in northern parts of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states, causing the displacement of over two million people. 

Yet, a recent report insists that the insurgency is not a proxy war, because “no neighbouring country has provided the group with lethal materiel or given it a sanctuary to train or recruit as payback for, or to otherwise influence, one of the affected country’s actions elsewhere.” 

This viewpoint was expressed in a study by Eric G. Berman titled ‘The Management of Lethal Materiel in Conflict Setting: Existing Challenge and Opportunities for European Peace Facilities.’ 

HumAngle had on Thursday, Sept. 9, published part of the findings of the 44-page report, where the author stated that more local security personnel have died in the ongoing Lake Chad conflict than the troops’ loss recorded by UN Peacekeeping missions since 1947. Berman, a researcher on small arms proliferation and Director at Safeguarding Security Sector Stockpiles (S4) Initiative, said he based his claims on the fatality data obtained from CFR’s Nigeria Security Tracker. 

“The Boko Haram insurgency is not an example of a proxy war,” he said in the report, referring to instances where a major power plays a role in a conflict to support one of the warring parties without direct military involvement. 

“The answer (to the longevity question) lies in its (Boko Haram) successful attacks against the region’s security forces and seizure of their lethal materiel—both small arms and larger conventional weapon systems.”

According to Berman, “the loss of materiel as a direct consequence of these attacks is substantial.” 

In his analysis, most of the weapons used by the insurgents, both Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), were from abandoned arsenals of invaded military bases. 

“A gun truck, fitted with a machine gun will frequently transport several tins of linked cartridges totalling hundreds of rounds of ammunition,” he said.

“A soldier may carry at least two or three magazines of 20 or 30 bullets each on his or her person. When a base is overrun, crew-served weaponry such as machine guns, mortars and towed, as well as self-propelled artillery will frequently be left behind, as will thin-skinned and armoured vehicles.” 

Though Berman did not rule out the possibility of terrorists buying some of their weapons from the black market, he insisted that a larger chunk of their illegal arsenal comes from within the borders of the Lake Chad Basin countries. 

“Contingent-owned equipment (COE) secured through seizure from regional security forces likely dwarfs materiel received through other procurement channels,” the report said. 

“There are many ways in which armed groups obtain weapons and ammunition. Arms are reported to have arrived in Nigeria from regional conflicts via the black market. Local artisans are also a source for lethal materiel as are corrupt soldiers. And Boko Haram reportedly has some capacity to produce lethal materiel on its own, such as rockets.” 

Anecdotal information suggests that ISIS has provided numerous services to its province, but that military hardware is not one of them,” Berman insisted. 

“In early 2017, however, MNJTF Force Commander Maj-Gen. L. Adeosun acknowledged that most of the equipment that his force recovered from militants originated from military positions the insurgents had themselves attacked.”

“Four years later, the same holds, except the quantity of material held by the insurgents has greatly increased.”

The report also claimed that Boko Haram terrorists used to enrich their war chest with arms and ammunition easily picked from bases fled by Nigerian troops. 

“Sometimes troops will leave a base in advance of an imminent or perceived attack. They may do so pursuant to direct orders or in keeping with tactical considerations,” it explained.

“Sometimes substantial quantities of weaponry kept at the base as reserves can be taken with the departing forces. Other times that which cannot be taken is destroyed or made unusable. Often, however, the materiel falls into enemy hands. Logistical constraints or poor planning can also play a part: militants recovered military vehicles that soldiers had to abandon when they ran out of fuel.” 

S4’s data set “documents more than 500 incidents since 1 January 2015 in which security forces have reportedly come under attack from one of the two main Boko Haram factions [out of which] more than 100 of the recorded attacks can be described as significant in terms of losses of materiel.” 

According to Berman, the study was carried out in the light of the recent establishment of the European Peace Facility (EPF) to identify “mechanisms and initiatives that the European Union (EU)—and others—can use to help secure lethal materiel and reduce the risk of its diversion or misuse.” 

The report is organised into three parts focusing on the challenges facing security personnel and materiel in the Lake Chad Basin region, the larger continental and global context of challenges to Peace Support Operations, and existing regional arms control frameworks.

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Abdulkareem Haruna

Abdulkareem Haruna is a Nigerian journalist currently employed as the Editor for Lake Chad at HumAngle. For over a decade, he has demonstrated a passionate commitment to reporting on the Boko Haram conflict and the crisis in the Lake Chad region of northeastern Nigeria. He is a graduate of English Language and holds a Diploma in Mass Communications. Prior to his current role, he served as an assistant editor at both Premium Times and Leadership Newspaper.

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