The decade-long joint efforts of governments of the Lake Chad countries to defeat Boko Haram insurgents have recorded a significant loss of troops.
According to an elaborate study of the conflict in the region, the military death toll is more than what the United Nations (UN) has recorded in its peace-keeping missions since 1947.
The report, titled The Management of Lethal Materiel in Conflict Settings, is a collaboration between Eric G. Berman, Director of the Safeguarding Security Sector Stockpiles (S⁴) Initiative, and the International Peace Information Service (IPIS).
Obtained by HumAngle on Thursday, it revealed how “years of lack of working equipment, endemic corruption, diminished morale of troops, and lapses in battle readiness” had negatively impacted the counterinsurgency efforts on the Lake Chad Basin.
The report’s key findings indicate that the 12-year-old war has taken a deeper toll on troops’ life expectancy than ever imagined.
“The levels of loss of uniformed personnel and the seizure of lethal materiel from state stockpiles in the Lake Chad Basin region are astonishingly high,” part of the report reads.
“In six years (between 2015 and 2020) several times as many uniformed personnel serving in and alongside the Multinational Joint Task Force were killed due to ‘malicious acts’ than those who have served in UN peacekeeping operations for more than 70 years.”
Berman observed that efforts to defeat Boko Haram have arguably made the situation on Lake Chad even “worse”.
The study, which assesses Boko Haram’s attacks on uniformed personnel and the resulting loss of security sector materiel, stated that its findings demonstrate “the risks associated with lethal equipment provision, and just how easily material can fall into the wrong hands.”
The author said unlike organisations such as the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) that are undertaking Peace Support Operations (PSOs), the UN has been exceptionally transparent when it comes to reporting on fatalities of personnel serving in its missions.
According to the UN, more than 4,000 people serving in more than 70 of its UN-led operations have died between 1948 and 2020 while on the mission.
The report said the number of casualties being recorded in UN missions has grown steadily in recent decades, which prompted the UN “to take steps to reduce its losses” through enhancing protection measures such as better training and equipment.
Berman said the study relied largely on S4’s data set, which is open-source information detailing more than 500 reported incidents of “attacks on security sector personnel in the Lake Chad Basin region since January 2015 in which a Boko Haram faction is the likely perpetrator.”
The two major Boko Haram factions JAS and ISWAP may differ in many ways, he noted, but “they are a mirror image of each other in one important characteristic: the way they secure materiel.”
Attacks on security personnel
According to the study, although official data concerning attacks on security personnel is difficult to obtain because of reluctance from the authorities, “reports suggest that the situation in the Lake Chad Basin region is serious.”
The Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker (NST) claims that “more than 2,000 uniformed security sector personnel have died in the conflict since 2015.”
Describing the numbers as alarming, the report noted that the figures may have “underestimated the true scale and scope of the losses incurred concerning the security personnel of the four Lake Chad Basin countries.”
The 44-page report recalled a memorial to fallen comrades since 2013 held at the headquarters of the Nigerian military’s operations in Northeast Nigeria in 2018, where the names of more than 1,300 soldiers were acknowledged.
Citing some recent examples, the report said “an estimated 600 soldiers had died within six months in 2018 alone. More than 100 Cameroonian soldiers lost their lives in attacks by Boko Haram in 2014 and 2015. Three separate attacks on police targets in N’Djamena in June 2015 resulted in more than 100 casualties, including dozens of deaths, many of whom were members of the police.”
|Table 4 – UN personnel who have died in UN peace operations (1948-2020)
|Deaths by Malicious Acts
The report said most of the fatalities recorded by troops in the Boko Haram war were deliberately kept from public knowledge.
“Nigeria, for example, has been accused of burying bodies of its dead soldiers at a secret graveyard under cover of night to escape the media spotlight and public scrutiny,” Berman wrote in a footnote.
“The number of fatalities would jump to over a thousand more if including data for the period 2012-14, which just includes Nigerian casualties,” he stated.
“Security forces from Niger have also been hit hard by non-state armed groups, but more so in the country’s north and west than in the south-east where Boko Haram factions are active. In 30 days during December 2019 and January 2020, three attacks in the Tillabéri region resulted in more than 200 soldiers dead or injured.”
Reason for the attacks and high fatalities
The report notes that peacekeepers and security personnel actively working in conflict zones such as the Lake Chad region face life-threatening situations partly because they have something militants are after: materiel.
“And they represent the state, which the militants want to, if not defeat, then certainly embarrass and demoralize. Ambushes against patrols, convoys, troop movements, and escort duties, are especially hard to defend against,” it added.
“That said, lack of (working) equipment, leadership, training, and morale are all more prominent causal factors for the loss of life and materiel among security sector actors. The examples provided are skewed toward Nigerian actors reflecting the fact that Nigerian soil is home to most of the attacks by Boko Haram, and that the Nigerian media is comparatively robust and active, which is not surprising given that Nigeria’s population is more than three times the size of Cameroon, Chad, and Niger combined.”
Still not a hopeless situation
The report concluded that, despite the unprecedented loss of troops in the Boko Haram war, “the situation is not hopeless.”
“The ability to improve on weapons and ammunition management within peace support operations’ settings is certainly possible,” the author said.
He clarified that it is important to note that losses in war do not inherently imply “failure” or “culpability.”
“The surest way for a country not to lose men or women in uniform, or any COE is to not participate in a mission. If the goal is to improve the safety of security sector personnel and materiel then one must accept that things sometimes will not go as planned,” he said.
He explained that the aim of the study was to reduce such occurrences “and to learn from them to make them less likely to reoccur, and to hold people and governments accountable when appropriate.”
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