Posted by News Express | 30 May 2020 | 1,096 times
“The Lake Chad Basin is so culturally intertwined that all hands must be on deck at the same time – This is the only answer to jihadist end-game in the region.”
We are faced with an unprecedented war against Coronavirus, which the World health Organisation (WHO) christened COVID-19 – a virus that emerged in late 2019 from the Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei province. Someone got infected in the famous Huanan seafood market after apparently feeding on some animal. Globally, COVID-19 has killed more than 80,000 people within a couple of months – at the time of writing this article. It is still not known how and when medical scientists working round the clock will eventually normalise this pandemic.
COVID-9 is nothing like a Third World War (WW3), as various analysts have argued. First, the virus cannot be defeated using any sophisticated weapon; unlike Ebola, there is no agreed scientific consensus on exactly how COVID-19 is transmitted from one host to another. Crucially, the global impact on the world economy and social interaction and behavioural changes is the first of its kind witnessed in modern and contemporary time.
Distraction to the war on terror
COVID-19 is, in a way, the Real First World War (WW1). Each nation is directly and indirectly affected by this invincible, indiscriminate and deadly coronavirus. Difficult economic and social choices are implemented by both powerful and weak nations alike, to fight the spread of the pandemic, forcing other existential security and terror related threats to take the backseat on the global agenda – for the first time since 9/11 New York Twin Tower attacks by Al-Qaida - at least, until such a time when a vaccine and, perhaps, a treatment is found, and approved.
Right now, COVID-19 is spreading throughout Europe, Asia, America and Africa at break-neck speed. Compassionate calls by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres, for immediate “silence of the guns” has fallen on deaf ears among global Al-Qaida and ISIS-linked jihadists. To add salt to the injury, ISIS core has linked the virus outbreak to God’s punishment to all infidels; one the jihadist alludes is well-deserving to its sworn enemy – the West and its coalition partners anywhere in the world.
Lake Chad Basin – Boko Haram/ISWAP
In sub-Sahara Africa, case in point – the Lake Chad Basin, jihadists linked to Boko Haram and ISIS affiliates – known locally as Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) have intensified offensive attacks against military targets in the region, since the end of 2019 and the beginning of this year.
Distracted by the COVID-19 global pandemic, Boko Haram jihadists have seized the vacuum to launch coordinated attacks in the Lake Chad Basin. In early March 2020, the jihadists stormed the South-eastern region of Diffa, Niger Republic, killing about 7 police officers. In Chad, jihadists linked to Boko Haram/ISWAP factions launched a deadly attack on March 23, 2020 in the Lac Province bordering Niger and Nigeria, killing more than 98 Chadian soldiers, including senior officers; more than 40 escaped with life threatening injuries.
In Nigeria, ISWAP insurgents laid a deadly ambush against Nigeria Armed Forces, killing about 100 soldiers in Gorgi village, Damboa Local Government Area of Borno State, North-east Nigeria. April 6, 2020, Cameroon: about seven people, including a village head, were killed along the Cameroon-Nigeria border town of Amchide by two Boko Haram suicide bombers.
All hands on deck
The Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) under the leadership of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) was created with various regional states’ sectors as a task force to defeat Boko Haram insurgency activities and limit single-state only planned responses against Boko Haram jihadist cells in the region. This is because the Lake Chad Basin is so culturally and geographically intertwined that all hands must be on deck at the same time. This is the only approach to jihadists’ end-game in the region. Boko Haram/ISWAP groups continue to exploit regional gaps when individual states launch attacks without coordinating with other MNJTF sector states.
At the peak of COVID-19 pandemic struggle, international “war against terror” partner support for Lake Chad Basin states could be severely impacted as European Union, UK, US and other global partners divert and reserve much-needed resource to respond and manage COVID-19. Traditional funding from partners in the form of technical and resource assistance for regional counter-terrorism efforts will eventually take a hit.
In addition to the existential jihadist conflicts and other insurgency movements operating in the region, Lake Chad Basin states have very weak medical and health infrastructures, which would severely impact on how they manage the COVID-19 pandemic.
Time is overdue for these regional states to set aside any existing differences and focus on the common enemy – Boko Haram/ISWAP jihadists. Together, under the umbrella of MNJTF, Lake Chad Basin states should design and implement a robust coordinated military and inter-governmental support strategy to have a much better chance of eliminating Boko Haram and ISWAP affiliates in the region by tactically blocking their ability to manoeuvre through porous regional borders givin them the option to retreat, escape, hide, recover and plan further counter-attacks against unsuspecting regional military and civilian targets.
Lake Chad Basin states must engage in regionally coordinated and multi-faceted military and civilian efforts aimed at simultaneously uprooting jihadist presence in the region, counter their twisted ideology, suffocate local and external support networks and degrade their ability to plan and launch attacks against hard military and soft civilian populations within and across border states.
To achieve a comprehensive and sustainable victory, each regional state must establish or enhance existing community cohesion activities and trust-building networks with credible local partners, together with credible civil society organisations and international partners. These local networks, given the right capacity, security and trust, would gain the skills and resources to directly engage the most vulnerable groups and ensure that jihadist narratives and tactics do not continue to create gaps needed for winning the hearts and minds of the local population.
No single nation in the Lake Chad Basin can “Play God” against a deeply rooted ISIS and Al-Qaida core and affiliates, even when reported internal leadership rivalry among jihadists prevents them from establishing a highly centralised and unified movement. Individual state-led battles against jihadist groups will be won and lost from time to time, but only a joint sustainable regional strategy will successfully crush Boko Haram jihadist activities in the region.
The strategic importance for collective regional collaboration - from planning, preparation to force deployment – explains the genesis and rationale behind the creation of the MNJTF. More than ever, the global COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on external support partners should present the need for MNJTF member states to resuscitate regional funds, command, control and place a priority to collectively achieve its most important goal of suffocating all Boko Haram and ISWAP jihadist presence and menace in the Lake Chad region. No one Lake Chad Basin country, however powerful and strategic, will succeed to crush and defeat Boko Haram ISWAP on their own without a genuine MNJTF civil and military collaboration and coordination.
•David Otto, Global Risk International Director of Anti & Counter Terrorism programme design and training, holds a Master of Science in Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime and BA in Law & Criminology from the University of East London, United Kingdom
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