•How did Metele happen? This is the puzzle the army has been trying to unravel since the December 2, Boko Haram attack on the 157 Task Force Battalion. In this piece, Col. Ola Majoyeogbe, a retired senior military intelligence expert, praised the troops at the theatre of war and called for”actionable tactical intelligence” to help them in routing the insurgents.
President Muhammadu Buhari visiting injured troops
Boko Haram attack
The truth was the first casualty following the assault on the Nigerian 157 Task Force Battalion location in Metele in northern Borno State. It has always been the case in all human armed conflicts since the dawn of history.
Once an attack occurs or there is an epic battle in any war, the casualty figures provided by all parties to the conflicts are always different. Sometimes so significantly different, that one wonders whether all the different casualty figures refer to one and the same battle.
The figures released into the public domain, since the tragic encounter in Metele, in Borno State, ranged from about 23 in total. Over 480 soldiers and officers killed, severely wounded or missing in action (MIA).
Some of these claims attributed to “authoritative” sources. Pray, who is an authoritative source in a situation such as this? Doubtless, “manufacturers” of the video footage or cleverly doctored photographs. And “eye-witness” accounts from the fertile imaginations of street journalists eager to meet deadlines, cannot all true accounts of one and the same battle.
NGOs, politicians, so-called “security experts” and sundry charlatans had a field day milking the tragedy to the full. However, very unfortunate that such a tragedy can become a matter for reckless exploitation by all-manner of people.
Is there Nothing that is off limits for manipulation and mindless exploitation in Nigeria? Should Nigerians, one and all not, without legislation by the highest paid parliament on the planet. Therefore, decide as a matter of cultural and traditional decency to put off limits such matters as military tragedies?
Nigeria is at war, a shooting war of the worst nature; an asymmetric counter-revolutionary war, whether the Nation has formally declared it or not.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended, Nonetheless, provides for the steps which must complied with before members of the Armed Forces of Nigeria are committed to armed conflict.
Perhaps, my memory fails me. But I cannot recall whether the constitutional provisions were fulfilled either by the lacklustre and failed Jonathan Administration.
The Buhari Government which inherited the tragedy, although, whether that formality occurred or not, I think that the rather mute National Orientation Agency (NOA). And other relevant agencies of Government should bring to the awareness of all Nigerians that the Nation is at war.
This is important because, even in Nations with the reputation for mindless rascality on matters of national security, accept certain levels of disciplined conduct. Above all, war and warfare in which their Nations are involved.
For instance, it is not in the character of the citizens of the United States of America, to vote against a President prosecuting a war.
There are no doubts whatsoever that the 157Task Force Battalion located in Melete was assaulted in a deliberate Boko Haram offensive operation.
It is also true, that as is the case in all forms of warfare, since the dawn of history, that casualties, regular or extra-ordinary, were sustained in that offensive combat operation. However, the assaulting troops and the opposing forces in defence, routine stuff nothing unusual.
My reading of the situation is that, what appeared to have happened is that the Task Force battalion afore-mentioned, was caught napping by a deliberate intelligence-driven. Major deliberate attack on that border location in the dusty semi-arid combat zone in Metele.
Some other locations also sustained casualties but nothing came close to the losses of the Task Force battalion. Indeed, the final figures are not in. There are troops missing in action (MIA) and some of the troops with life-threatening injuries will eventually succumb to the cold hands of death.
That is the way the cookie crumbles. Anyone who does not want needless waste of precious lives should not go to war. I shall return to this issue shortly.
‘My take on Metele’
What could the tragic scenario like? Not in that combat myself at this time, thank God, and not having access to official facts, I can conjecture based on my excellent military training and combat experiences.
I conclude that the troops of 157 Task Force Battalion got used to their base without enemy activity for a while. This probably lured them into some kind of laxity. That have led in turn to some form of letting down of the guards.
This is not unusual in all wars, conventional or unconventional. It is very difficult to maintain a high level of alertness in a situation in which enemy action is infrequent. It have argued and in some instances proven, that the pain or discomfort of unbroken “red alert status” is much oppressive than the pain and actual danger of combat action.
Regular combat action, with the adrenalin-in constant flow, has discovered to take much lesser pressure on troops in combat. It is probable that at this time of lull in combat, Boko Haram elements and their confederate allies, conducted surveillance operations and information patrols to obtain timely, accurate and actionable intelligence.
This is possible because as has stated repeatedly, Boko Haram gunmen do not operate in uniform. They are not distinguishable from the local populace in the combat area.
It was William Shakespeare that scripted the immortal lines in the famous tragedy named Macbeth namely; “There is no art to find the mind’s construction in the face”. The troops of 157 Task Fore Battalion could not have known that some of the “farmers,” “herdsmen” and “petty traders” part time prostitutes and adventurous immoral female rascals providing “comfort” for troops who are under severe tension.
Indeed Boko Haram elements or sympathisers, Boko Haram elements and their affiliates run “sleeping cells” all over the place, including but not limited to the theatre of operations, local communities and city centres.
Recall also that it has been reported that Boko Haram and their murderous affiliates now fly drones for the collection of combat intelligence. Is it then being postulated that the troops were “sitting ducks” waiting to be massacred? Not on your life!
They most probably were conducting routine operations whilst in defence. They probably conducted “reconnaissance patrols”, occasional “fighting patrols”, raids and other such routines in defence. There were also probably, operational security measures in action and in effect.
But in asymmetric warfare in which our troops are involved, the enemy has the advantage in terms of “operational intelligence”. They find it easier to obtain “tactical intelligence” because they operate in mufti.
Our troops on the other hand are bound to comply with a myriad of military laws, and international laws and Conventions. Nigerian troops and the troops of the MNJTF are bound by the Geneva Conventions, the Laws of Armed Conflict, International Humanitarian laws and several other regulations including fire control orders etc.
The enemy on the other hand is not bound by any laws, respect no edicts, international or metropolitan, civil or military. Neither do they respect traditions which have evolved and are compiled with by all regular combatants. This has gone on for centuries in the human idiocy called war.
Clearly, the freedom to operate outside all regulations, give the murderous gunmen absolutely unassailable advantages over the regular combat troops, recognised by the UN and bound by its laws and regulations.
I have heard arm-chair analysts and so-called “security experts”, whose only claim to that appellation is that they served in the equivalent of “Road Safety” in some local constabulary abroad, return home and claim to be “security experts”.
Unfortunately, both the genuine and fake “security experts” get equal patronage from the media, print and electronic. Some of these fellows foul up the atmosphere, in the public space, a space already fouled up by fake news, hate speech and heartless mischief. But I digress.
‘Troops are fighting a difficult war’
But how come that the troops of the MNJTF are not advancing against Boko Haram, steadily and consistently, until the murderous gangs are wiped out?
They cannot do that for a number of reasons. First, Boko Haram and its affiliates and splinter groups are “not holding the ground” as it was in those days of Goodluck Jonathan.
They held the ground and set up administrations. Terrible tactical misjudgment! Troops of the MNJTF moved against them and practically “wiped them out”!
I suspect that this is one reason that the Minister of Information, thoroughly ignorant of the narratives of unconventional war. However, committed the now famous gaffe; namely that Boko Haram has “technically defeated”!
Utter nonsense! Boko Haram seeing the futility of that approach to the war, promptly abandoned it and left Lai Mohammed with eggs in his face! MNJTF cannot afford to chasing highly mobile criminals who are constantly on the run and not holding any ground.
But why are they not giving chase when Boko Haram are repelled and on the run? Good question! They cannot or in fact should not go in hot pursuit, because that is exactly what the terrorists want them to do.
Troops that react as expected by the enemy are usually massacred! The forces of the United States experienced such in Vietnam. Boko Haram fighters launch attacks on MNJTF locations with rifles, machine guns. Above all, rocket-propelled grenades and an array of other offensives weapons.
They also come with plenty of Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDS). Any troops, foolish or reckless enough to go in hot pursuit are hit by the VBIEDs launched by Boko Haram.
However, as they flee after hit and run attacks. Certainly do not want the gallant young men and women, who are serving in the MNJTF to blown up as they embark on hot pursuits after the terrorists.
Suicide is sought by terrorists of the Islamic extraction. Rational regulated, recognised combatants do not commit suicide. They fight, overpower, outwit and destroy enemies of mankind.
Is it therefore the case that the troops of the MNJTF will never defeat the terrorists? They will eventually if the various Governments continue to provide for them and if the mischief makers do not destroy their morale, through their selfish antics and discouraging remarks.
But how are they going to do that? That is a good question that should not be answered in the public space. Boko Haram operatives, their sponsors, their collaborators and their agents within the MNJTF are going to carefully study this write-up.
Therefore, it will be wrong to provide valuable tactical intelligence to the enemy on a platter of gold. Let them go and figure it out. The Chief of Army Staff (COAS) of the Nigerian Army, the indomitable and intrepid Lt-Gen Tukur Burutai, our own equivalent of the World War 11 hero, the enigmatic Field Marshal Montgomery, has appointed many more senior battle commanders and read to them.
What they must do in the war going forward. The coming days shall see, how much fire the MNJTF can bring to bear on the enemy combatants and how they can reverse losses after temporary set-backs. Such as the over exaggerated Metele debacle.
The semi-arid theatre of operations is about to witness how much fire the MNJTF can bring to bear on the criminals and how highly-motivated regular and Special Forces can set the battle field on fire.
After fired up by their Commander-in-Chief; a man who himself has spent some of his service life in and out of combat. I refer to the fearless field commander; Muhammadun Buhari.
This battle-tested warrior is in a class of his own, far apart from loose-talking mischievous politicians and sundry ignorant charlatans. Pray, when will loquacious Nigerian politicians learn to admit that they are not qualified to talk about everything under the sun.
Boko Haram elements intent on committing suicide, shall soon, and very soon confronted with troops of the MNJTF who are trained to kill people who want to die.
Our troops are trained to survive in combat and not to commit suicide like the terrorists who are trained and primed to seek suicide, so that they can welcomed by 44 virgins up there somewhere. They seek martyrdom! They operate with reckless courage, doing unimaginable things most of which are lawless and out-lawed.
Our troops are fighting an incredibly difficult war. They are trained to operate under difficult situations. They do not abandon combat as easily as our over-fed Senators do. When the air condition is not functioning full blast, or when the public address systems have some minor issues.
Our defenders fight in the heat, with dust and smoke and the smell of gun powder. They hear the cries of their mortally wounded colleagues, they hear, over the sound of battle, the clear orders of their commanders; they are the best!
Is it not unbelievable that our fats Senators earn the sum total of the salaries of 42 Generals each? Our troops are outstanding in regular conventional combat but not so in asymmetric unconventional tactics.
Nigerian troops fought with great courage in what used to known as Burma during World War 11. When the UN seeks the services of troops for Peace-keeping and Peace-enforcement operations, they are much sought-after.
I saw them in action under the auspices’ of the United Nations Interim Peace-Keeping Force in Lebanon. I operated alongside these incredible warriors in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
If I have to go back and fight alongside these warriors, it will be my delight. All the troops of all nations on the earth “catch hell” when confronted by insurgents and terrorists.
Terrorism is the “nuclear weapon” of the weak. How many terrorists took down the Twin Towers in the US in the infamous 9/11 attack? No number of regular troops in regular combat have pulled off such an attack and inflict such casualties.
Not one on this planet in this generation. But we must thank God that the Commander-in-Chief, himself an accomplished combatant and the Chief of Army Staff, a modern day Field Marshall Montgomery, reacted as appropriate.
It is even comforting that thousands of Police Mobile Force (PMF) men and a large number of Counter Terrorist unit (CTU) including Explosive Ordnance Experts are already heading north to the Theater of Operations.
It is only with this type of specialist combatants that Nigeria and the Nations of the Multi-national Joint Task Force can contain and destroy Boko Haram and its allies.
Defence of the Nation
It would be helpful in the extreme, if thousands of more Infantry men are introduced into the war. It is perhaps appropriate, that I repeat my call to the Chief of Defence Staff, to seek the permission of the C-in-C.
However, to call up the thousands of retired and discharged troops who are still combat-worthy to show up and sign up once again. In other word, to put their lives and limbs at risk for the defence of the Nation.
I am certain that several battalions of such troops can be raised and deployed in the war effort in some capacity. I must now return to the issue of the idiocy of war. It was Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower, the US five-star General and Commander of the Expeditionary Force in Europe, during World War 11, who said such immortal lines about the idiocy of war. He should know.
Not only was he successful in combat but the Americans rewarded him with the office of the 34th President of the United States. He said much more and I quote:
“War is mankind’s most tragic folly. To seek or advice its deliberate provocation is a black crime against all men. Every gun that is made, every ship that is launched, every rocket that is fired, signify in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed.
Those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists and the hope of its children. This is not a way of life at all in the true sense. Under the clouds of war it is humanity on a cross of iron.”
Nigerians do not reward their troops with anything, other than scurrilous remarks. They are oblivious of the fact that whatever, they say or do will impact the morale of the troops in combat!
One of the reasons America lost the Vietnam War was because the war was unpopular at home and the troops fully aware that they will not be welcome by home as heroes! Another reason was that the war commanders were not allowed to take strategic or tactical decisions.
Idle politicians like the crowd that we have in Nigeria, were dictating to the Generals what targets to attack and which to avoid! Nigerian politicians in particular, anxious to reap electoral mileage. Perhaps, give no thought to the effect of their mischief on the on-going shooting war.
It is indeed, ironic that PDP stalwarts, some of who supervised the unprecedented looting of funds meant for our troops, therefore, have the temerity to make ridiculous comments. About the sincerity and seriousness of the Buhari Government with respect to the equipment and welfare of the Armed Forces of Nigeria.
They, within living memory, committed unpardonable crimes against troops in combat by simply looting the funds meant for war.
Thank God that in the midst of the frenzy by many irresponsible people, led by discredited Nigerian politicians who have on a “feeding frenzy” feeding off the tragedy of the deaths of many Nigerian troops, some of the university graduates who have, voluntarily put their lives on the line to protect Mother Nation have made statements that fly in the face of the truth.
I pray that God Almighty, will forgive these mischievous Nigerians for their terrible disservice to our gallant troops. But we thank God for a group of Nigerian women who decided to stand up for our troops, who are in a messy counter-insurgency revolution war.
How to win the war
What do we need most in this war? intelligence and more intelligence. But most importantly, real-time intelligence. Even the insurgents have acquired drones with which they scoop real time intelligence.
That shows how critical actionable tactical intelligence is. These malcontents are smarter than we give them credit.
The next urgent need is for well trained Special Forces; well trained and primed to conduct special operations based on real time accurate actionable intelligence. No one will win a counter-revolutionary conflict with only Infantry men in combat.
More Special Forces must be introduced into the conflict as it is being done. The Counter Terrorist Units (CTU) of the Police and the Explosive Ordnance units are welcome into battle. Those Special Forces units in the Nigerian Army must collaborate with their counterparts in the Police.
Furthermore, we must continue to recruit and train more troops. Truth be told, many of those in combat now, will die. Troops always carry coffins when they go into combat. Death is the Siamese twins of soldiering. The rains fall, the sun shines, babies cry, solders die and politicians lie! Nothing is out of place.
My dear comrades-at-arms take “Courage do not stumble, though your paths dark as night!” You are in mortal combat; die if you must, but do not fail to put the most spectacular acts of courage and sacrifice.
It is truly befitting to die, if one must, for one, country; even if the country happens to be ungrateful Nigeria. Your morale must remain high. Your bullet wounds must be on your chests and not on your backs.
All religious books of all faiths approve of your toil. Fight on furiously; fight on with as much ferocity as you can muster.
Most Nigerians do not know what they are doing. Ignore them and fight on. If they fail to appreciate you, the God who created you and those you are protecting will welcome you home by saying, “welcome good and faithful servants”.
Fight on colleagues. As we say in the military”clear the doubts” of Boko Haram and all their collaborators including ungrateful and some blackmailed Nigerians. Some Nigerians are collaborating with Boko Haram not because they are disloyal, but because Boko Haram has contacted them and told them deadpan.
“You give us X amount of money at these intervals or we zap your children in ABC school and your wife who owns a store XYZ market”!
Remember the famous quote of one of our greatest Generals yet; I write of the first Cadet to win a sword of honour in the history of the Nigerian Defence Academy. The indomitable 3-star General Salihu Ibrahim; “the job must be done”.
Sadly, the passing of the General has just been announced as I write this piece. Well that should not dampen our spirits! It should do the very opposite; we must continue to fight the way the General will love us to fight. Adieu great warrior! Do the job, gallant Nigerian troops. Do the job! By God your Creator do the job!
Now a word or two for those making it sound like the unimaginable happen in Metele in Borno State. Casualties are a part of war. One side must be beaten so bad that it cannot sustain the battle. That means killing most of the combatants or seriously disrupting their logistic support, so that the enemy does not have enough food.
Both ammunition, weapons and whatsoever else is required, such as warm clothing in extremely cold weather or appropriate clothing when the weather is hot and sticky. Horrendous casualties have sustained in war.
Perhaps, the battle that retains to this day, the suspect distinction in terms of casualties is the battle of Somme during the period of July to November 1916. Fifty seven thousand British soldiers died in that battle.
The Allied and Central Forces lost a million and a half officers and soldiers. An estimated seventy thousand people died the day the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Another 40,000 died in Nagazaki a few days later.
The Japanese, in spite of their famed courage and staying power surrendered. That more than anything else, drove World War 11 inexorably towards it closure.
Metele debacle is not the war against Boko Haram. It is only one battle at the extremes of the Theatre of Operations. The Allied Forces lost some battles during World War 11, but they won the War.
The MNJTF lost one battle at the fringes of the huge conflict. They will win other battles and triumph in the end. Meanwhile, let no one kid himself or waste on weapons and ammunitions, but victory will be achieved.
Anyone involved in war, already taken an idiotic decision. War is deadly. War is horrible. War is wasteful of the prickliest of all things; human life. War must be avoided by all means. We are already involved in this present idiocy. We must see the tragedy to its logical conclusions.
Politicians, steer clear of our gallant troops. Look for other issues to lies about. You can tell lies about infrastructure, education, the economy and tell lies about social services. Then go ahead and win the elections.
Then embezzle our common patrimony; that is your stock in trade. But please leave the troops in combat out of long list of issues to lie about. Do not distract the troops. Do not destroy their morale. Most importantly, do not do anything to cause them to turn their guns upon one another.
The terrorists are terrible enough. A word is enough for the wise! Are there any wise men and women amongst Nigerian politicians?
In closing this piece, I feel constrained to dismiss the very ridiculous and baseless call for the removal of the Service Chiefs because of the successful Boko Haram assault in Melete.
Are the loose-talking politicians and their mischievious collaborators saying that if a lowly newspaper reporter messes up big time, the Editor of the newspaper should be fired?
Or when a lowly bank official steals some money in rural Kutiwenji, the Group Managing Director should be fired? Are they insisting that if an over-fed politician rapes a minor in a village in Osun State, the Chairman of the Party should be fired?
Are they insisting that if a patient dies in a rural hospital in the creeks of the Niger Delta, the Minister of Health should be fired? Whatever happened to individual responsibility of local commanders in battle, if every failure or mishap must be placed at the foot of the top hieracrchy?
In the war against the insurgents, there are battalion locations commanded by officers of the rank of Lietenant Colonel who must have served for no less than 18 years.
They have their area of operational responsibilities with clearly marked boundaries. They have, or should have the number of men, equipment and weapons to get the job done.
They report directly to Brigade or Sector commanders, who report to The Threatre Commander. The boss of the Theatre Commander is the Chief of Army Staff! Is it clear now, how ridiculous these baseless calls are?
Nigerians come together and support those fighting so that you can live in peace. Each officer and soldier in combat is entitled to one thousand Naira per day. Pray consider how that ranks with the humongous allowances of our thieving members of the National Assembly! “There is God o o”.
Ola Majoyeogbe, a retired senior Military Intelligence expert , industrial security consultant and a Maritime Security subject-matter-expert, is a veteran of 3 wars. He writes from Lagos.