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– As War against Insurgency Claims Army GeneralTHISDAYLIVE – THISDAY Newspapers

On the heels of the killing of the Commander of the 28 Task Force Brigade in Chibok, Brigadier General Dzarma Zirkushu, in an ambush by terrorists in Borno State last week, curious eyebrows are being raised as regards Nigeria’s capacity to win the war against insurgency, writes Vanessa Obioha
Despite the usual claim of winning the war against insurgents in the North-east, the Nigerian Army penultimate Saturday announced the killing of one of its highest ranking officers fighting the insurgency war, Brigadier General Dzarma Zirkushu.
Zirkushu, the Commander of the 28 Task Force Brigade in Chibok, was attacked and killed alongside three soldiers by the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP), in Askira Uba Local Government Area of Borno State.
In January 2021, the late Brigadier General was redeployed from the Headquarters 1 Brigade, Gusau, Zamfara State to Headquarters 28 Task Force Brigade, Chibok, and appointed commander.
Before he was killed last week, the highest ranking army officers killed by terrorists in the North-east were colonels. While the Commander of the 25 Task Force Brigade of the Nigerian Army, Damboa, Colonel Dahiru Bako, was killed by Boko Haram terrorists in September 2020, the Commanding Officer of the Chief of Army Staff Mobile Intervention Battalion in Borno, Col. Hussaini Samaila Sankara died in July 2021 following the injuries he sustained when his vehicle ran into a landmine/IED of Boko Haram.
The IED blast incident, which occurred on May 30 between Marte and Dikwa, also killed some soldiers who were in the same vehicle with the late Sankara.
According to the sources, the troops of 28 Task Force Brigade, Chibok, were ambushed on their way to provide reinforcement in Askira, which was under attack by the ISWAP fighters. The said fighters had reportedly stormed the town in a large convoy of gun trucks.
In a statement issued by the Director, Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu, the Army stated that the troops of Joint Task Force, North-east Operation Hadin Kai were engaged in a fierce gun battle with the terrorists which also led to the death of the Brigadier General and three other soldiers.
The statement read in part: “A gallant senior officer, Brigadier General Dzarma Zirkushu, and three soldiers paid the supreme sacrifice in a very rare display of gallantry as they provided reinforcement in a counter-offensive against the terrorists and successfully defended the location.”
While giving the reason why Brigadier General Zirkushu was attacked and killed, the Senator representing Borno South Senatorial District, Ali Ndume, said the general was killed because he was a major obstacle to ISWAP operations in the area. He also disclosed that he died after a bomb-laden car rammed into his vehicle.
He said: “They know that the general was the major obstacle to their operation. They laid an ambush and rammed a bomb-laden car into his vehicle. The military is aware and the air force is providing surveillance in the area. It was a revenge mission. The army has been taking out key ISWAP commanders and they have their revenge.”
According to Ndume, who is the Chairman, Senate Committee on Army, the terrorists were regrouping in Borno North Senatorial District.
“They (ISWAP terrorists) are also regrouping around Borno North, that’s Lake Chad axis, planning to launch a fresh attack. The military is aware and the Air Force is conducting surveillance in the area right now.”
Many observers are of the opinion that if many soldiers, including officers can still be killed in Borno State, not only does it mean that the war against insurgency is not in any way near abating, it also reveals what the civilian population in the state is going through in the hands of the terorrist groups.
Before now, the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration and the Army had always engaged in propaganda with claims that the terrorist groups in the North-east had either been “technically” degraded or outrightly decimated and defeated.
Though very little is heard about Boko Haram these days with the death of its leader, Abubakar Shekau, in the hands of ISWAP, the breakaway group has remained deadly.
For instance, in December 2015, President Buhari had claimed that war against the Islamist militants had been “technically won.” He said the militant group could no longer mount “conventional attacks” against security forces or population centres.
This was followed by the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed who in 2019 said the military had “successfully defeated” Boko Haram insurgents. He said the country is now facing a fresh crisis, which is called a “global insurgency.”
Mohammed also said Nigerian troops have “successfully cleared the remnant of the home-grown insurgency called Boko Haram and are now being confronted by a fresh crisis, a global insurgency.”
“A faction of Boko Haram has aligned with the global terror group, ISIS, to form ISWAP, the Islamic State’s West African Province. In other words, ISIS now has a strong foothold in West Africa – with Nigeria at the forefront of the battle against them.
“With ISIS largely dislodged from Iraq and Syria, there is undoubtedly a flush of fresh fighters and weapons to ISWAP. Therefore, our military is fighting a global insurgency, without the kind of global coalition, including the United States, that battled ISIS in Syria and Iraq,” he said.
Former Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, had equally claimed that Boko Haram group had been defeated but the Nigerian military is now fighting an international criminal gang known as Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) which is a breakaway faction of Boko Haram.
He then explained that what is currently playing out in the North-east is the “metamorphosis of ISWAP which is an attempt by a group of international criminal organisations to explore the loopholes created by the breakdown of law and order in some neighbouring countries to perpetrate criminality in the West African sub-region.”
He then explained that what is currently playing out in the North-east is the “metamorphosis of ISWAP which is an attempt by a group of international criminal organisations to explore the loopholes created by the breakdown of law and order in some neighbouring countries to perpetrate criminality in the West African sub-region.”
Apart from the then army chief, other officials of the Buhari administration have made different claims about the group being ‘defeated’, ‘technically defeated’ or ‘decimated.’
Yet, the more these claims were being made, the more the terrorist groups were launching more deadly attacks and assaults on the military and residents of Borno as well as other neighbouring states. Government critics argue that it has exaggerated the scale of its success against the militants, and that each time the army claims to have wiped out Boko Haram, the militants have quietly rebuilt.
Although from time to time, the military would regale Nigerians with statements on how tens of the terrorists are neutralised, they are still able to gather, attack civilian and military targets killing hundreds of people.
After many years of claiming that it had killed Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, it was ISWAP that eventually killed him. Also, it was the ISWAP group that was responsible for the eventual decimation of Boko Haram group in order to take full control of the Sambisa Forest.
On several occasions, the Nigerian military had complained about lack of equipment to effectively prosecute the war against the insurgency. The arrival of 12 A-29 Super Tucano fighter jets ordered from the United States and other 28 platforms, including 10 Super Mushshak aircraft, five Mi-35M helicopter gunships, two Bell 412 helicopters, four Agusta 109 Power attack helicopters, two Mi-171E helicopter, three JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft, and other armoured vehicles procured for the military, this year alone, had raised all hopes that a difference would be seen in the raging war against insurgency and banditary.
But unfortunately, nothing reasonable has been seen. Almost on a weekly basis, Nigerians are inundated with stories of how soldiers were killed in ambushes.
President Buhari was first elected into office in 2015 primarily because of the past administration’s inability to defeat the Boko Haram insurgency and end the insecurity in the country. After six years into his administration, Nigerians have seen more attacks from the insurgents and bandits in more states outside the North-east. Also, banditry, other forms of crime and violence still remain huge challenges in other parts of the country.

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