Security Brief: AFRICOM Week of May 31, 2021
Week of Monday, May 31, 2021 | Issue 32
Niall Paltiel, AFRICOM Team
Map of Nigeria with Niger State highlighted.
Location: Islamiyya school located at Tegina in the Rafi local government area of Niger State, Nigeria.
Parties involved: Unknown gunmen, Nigerian security agents, Nigerian students & Nigerian government.
The event: Ahmed Matane, secretary to the Niger State government, has confirmed that a significant number of students at an Islamiyya school in Niger state, Nigeria were abducted by unknown gunmen following an attack on the area, which resulted in one dead resident and another wounded. According to reporters, potentially 200 students were taken.
Previously, the primary schools targeted by bandits and gunmen as abduction sites were isolated boarding schools. By targeting an Islamiyya school (a school that blends traditional Islamic education with Western education elements) the gunmen demonstrated that the abduction, kidnapping, and ransoming of students does not seem to have any religious extremist motivation. This indicates that the core issue surrounding Nigeria’s banditry/gunmen problem may be wealth-based. Bandits are potentially being driven into ransoming students due to the poor economic situation they find themselves in and the low-risk and high-reward targets that students provide.
Despite the Nigerian government's consistent reiterations of support and pledges to drive away banditry across its northern states, this recent strike suggests that bandits are still highly active in the region. With each new school abduction, the civilian resentment and anger towards the Nigerian federal government continue to grow. Should these incidents continue, it is likely that the relationship within several of Nigeria’s northern states between citizens and the state may prove to be irreconcilable. Given the increased alienation between civilians and the state, it could allow bandit and extremist groups to wean civilian support and loyalty away from the state and towards themselves through coercive acts such as offering to fill state functions like security enforcement, or direct physical occupation and extortion.
Given past trends, it is likely that the gunmen will attempt to ransom off the students in the near future. The ransom will likely be directed to both the government, who claim to have never paid a ransom despite heavy evidence to the contrary, and the local affected populace, who in the past have paid off ransoms but generally at a lower amount than asked for by the kidnappers. Should the local civilians end up paying the ransom, the populace will likely feel abandoned and psychologically at the mercy of future kidnappers given the Nigerian government's inability to prevent an attack. This, in turn, may result in increased cooperation with gunmen and bandits on the part of the civilians who do not wish to succumb to future attacks or kidnappings, hence weakening the Nigerian state's control over its citizens.
Location: Village of Tchabi & displaced persons camp near Boga, Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Parties involved: ADF terrorists, Congolese citizens, Congolese government.
The event: According to the United Nations, at least 55 people were killed and others were abducted in attacks on and near two villages in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). The attack has been described as potentially the worst night of violence the region has seen in four years.
ADF activity in the eastern DRC often follows a pattern of hit and run movements against lightly defended targets. Aside from being low-risk high-reward options, the psychological impact these attacks have on Congolese citizens within the region results in a trust schism developing between the affected civilians and the central Congolese government. This schism arises from the inability of the government to effectively counter ADF militants that have superior knowledge of the geography of the region, being able to retreat into the vast jungle forests without being pursued for long.
By targeting a displaced persons camp, the ADF has demonstrated to the Congolese state that it is capable of finding and targeting some of the weakest sections of Congo’s population. In doing so, it has shown that the Congolese government is unable to protect a vulnerable population which will likely instill concern and fear into the minds of other displaced persons. This may,cause backlash by civilians (in the form of potential protests and increased cooperation with the ADF instead of the Congolese government over fears of further attacks) against the central government due to its inability to provide proper security for members of the public who have already suffered repeatedly at the hands of the ADF.
Coupled with a recent ADF attack on a major highway that connects eastern DRC to Uganda, this attack suggests that the ADF is becoming increasingly active again within the eastern DRC. The ADF’s attack patterns seem to go through cycles where they will conduct lots of rapid hit and run style operations before being pursued by UN Peacekeepers and DRC soldiers. Following this, the ADF will then replenish its forces and supplies before restarting the same cycle again. Both recent attacks seem to suggest that the cycle is now likely in the ADF assault phase.
Location: Damboa Town, Borno State, Nigeria.
Parties involved: ISWAP terrorists, Nigerian citizens, Nigerian government, Nigerian military.
The event: Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) fighters are currently in a gun duel with military personnel in the southern section of Borno state. The terrorist group invaded Damboa town at roughly 1030 local time, with dozens of gun trucks, according to the Daily Trust.
Damboa Town is far from the epicenter of most ISWAP activity (which is primarily located in the North East of Borno State). This recent strike suggests that ISWAP is continuously growing in strength and is also tactically evolving through employing gun trucks to combat the Nigerian military. This evolution is likely to result in higher Nigerian military casualties as well as more drawn-out conflicts between the two sides as Nigerian forces attempt to react and respond to the new tactics employed by ISWAP.
By engaging with military personnel, ISWAP is demonstrating that its members have reached a critical junction whereby the training, equipment, and confidence of its fighters are now sufficient to actively go on the offensive against military personnel, rather than ‘hit and run’ or defensive operations. This development is thus likely to result in ISWAP increasingly dictating the terms of future skirmishes given that it will be taking increasingly offensive actions. This could potentially stunt Nigerian efforts within Borno State to expunge ISWAP given that the military has typically been the side taking the offensive.
This attack comes shortly following the recent death of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau during a conflict with ISWAP. These two events together indicate that ISWAP is becoming increasingly confident and capable in its abilities to engage with its rivals and opponents. This capability to enter into head-on engagements is likely to result in increased conflict with the Nigerian military as ISWAP steadily grows throughout northern Nigeria.
Location: Solhan, Burkina Faso.
Parties involved: Armed gunmen, Burkina Faso government, Burkina Faso civilians
The event: Armed gunmen killed over 132 people overnight in the village of Solhan, Burkina Faso. This attack is the worst terrorist attack in recent years according to the Burkinabe government. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack but Islamist attacks have been increasingly common in the country in recent years.
The scale of the deaths involved in this attack is likely to inflict substantial psychological pressure on the populace within the eastern areas of Burkina Faso, near the village of Solhan. By indiscriminately targeting and killing so many civilians with no serious repercussions, the armed gunmen have demonstrated that it is possible to kill en masse. Citizens within the area may feel compelled to either vacate the area or submit to these attackers to stave off the threat of being killed themselves.
The inability of Burkinabe security forces to effectively respond to this attack is likely to draw increased public pressure on the government. Given that Burkina Faso has increasingly been targeted by terrorist groups over the most recent previous years, it is likely that the anger built up by the populace subjected to these attacks will be let out on the government and will potentially lead to a serious domestic stability issue that will be born out of anti-government sentiment.
Aside from being the worst attack on Burkinabe soil in recent years, this attack is likely to attract increased attention from other large-scale groups such as ISIS to begin actions of a similar nature within the region. The lack of effective security force response on the part of the Burkinabe government will lead larger threats such as ISIS or Al-Qaeda (and their affiliates) to view Burkina Faso as an easy target for their assaults. This, in turn, could potentially result in increasingly worse attacks being committed on Burkinabe soil.
 Gunmen Kill 1, Abduct 200 Students in Northern State, Legit.ng, May 2021, https://www.legit.ng/1418173-breaking-gunmen-kill-1-abduct-200-students-northern-state.html
 At least 55 killed in eastern Congo massacres, U.N. says, Reuters, May 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/least-50-killed-eastern-congo-massacres-research-group-2021-05-31/
 ISWAP Fighters Invade Borno Community, Attack Nigerian Troops, Sahara Reporters, June 2021, https://saharareporters.com/2021/06/02/iswap-fighters-invade-borno-community-attack-nigerian-troops