NAF Fighter Jets

Zamfara: Still on Military Operations and Collateral Damages

By MUKHTAR Ya’u Madobi

It is without doubt that security situations in Nigeria have lately been improving on a daily basis, a result which is not unconnected to the intensive military operations that have been going in the war theaters across the nation.

The operations have been yielding many successes, leading to the elimination of wanted terrorists alongside their footsoldiers. The effects became more pronounced as the troops intensified their operations around Kaduna, Zamfara and Niger States axes among other hot spots.

As of now, various terrorist syndicates that have been disturbing our peace are now retreating courtesy of this sustained onslaught by the Armed Forces of Nigeria, in collaboration with other sister security agencies.

Our military have now been on the offensive side, thereby taking the fight to the door steps of the bandits and equally decimating them. However, on so many occasions, the fear of collateral damage has been impeding the actualization of several military operations against non-state actors.

In order to disguise their identities, bandits and kidnappers prefer cohabiting within civilian settlements. In fact, they used to blend with the residents whenever the ground troops or Air components of the Nigerian military are in hot pursuit of them.

This is perhaps why security forces and their intelligence counterparts, especially the Defence Intelligence Agency, DIA, spend a lot of time monitoring a suspected location before finally launching attacks, aimed at fishing out and eliminating the criminals.

Notwithstanding, despite being cautious while executing their operations, Nigerian Air Force, NAF, end up recording collateral damage while shelling terrorists’ enclaves within and around troubled communities.

While commending the military for their relentless efforts to root out bandits and end their devilish acts, it’s however necessary and very apt to question the rate at which these incidents are reoccurring.

Civilian fatalities from airstrikes in conflict areas across Nigeria have become a recurring problem. Since the infamous Air Force bombing of an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Rann community, northeastern Nigeria, which killed more than 100 IDPs and aid workers five years ago, more civilians have become victims of intensified air operations against terror groups in the Northwest and Northeast.

Recall that in April 2020, at least 17 people, mostly women and their children playing under mango trees were said to have been killed when a fighter jet belonging to the Nigerian Air Force ‘accidentally’ dropped a bomb on Sakotoku village in Damboa Local Government Area (LGA) of Borno State.

The supposed target was an area in Korongilum, a neighboring village 12 km away from where suspected Boko Haram insurgents had gathered.

Not only civilians, military personnel, specifically the ground troops have also been victims of these ‘accidental’ bombings. In April 2021, about 100 soldiers were killed after a fighter jet belonging to the Nigerian Air Force shelled a military truck in Mainok, Borno State. The Air Force hit the wrong coordinates while targeting Boko Haram insurgents following calls for air support by the land troops.

In a similar narrative, another incident happened in Sept. 2021 when over a dozen of residents were bombed by NAF fighter jet in Buhari village of Yunusari Local Government Area of Yobe State. In addition, more than 20 other civilians sustained various degrees of injurious due to the unfortunate act.

Again, two weeks later, 20 fishermen were killed when the Air Force targeted terrorist camps in Kwatar Daban Masara in the Lake Chad area. Although the targeted area was considered enemy territory as it’s under the control of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), the fishermen were among those caught in the complex web of ISWAP resource exploitation.

More so, in July 2021, airstrikes from fighter jets while targeting bandits in Sububu forest located between Shinkafi and Maradun Local Governments of Zamfara State also claimed the lives of a woman and her four children.

The episodes continued because even on July 6, 2022, a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) fighter jet was reported to have “mistakenly” bombed civilians in Kakuna village of Katsina State, killing at least one person and injuring dozens of others.

The most recent happening occured in Maru Local Government Area of Zamfara State when scores of civilians were caught in a cross fire that ensued between bandits and Nigerian Military who are on avowed mission to end the terror reign of the terrorists in the axis.

The troops’ offensiveness, which took several days led to the recording of not less than 213 dead bodies comprising of 10 soldiers who paid the supreme price, some civilians and the bandits who constituted the larger percentage of the fatalities.

The unfortunate incident is the latest in a series of costly mistakes by the NAF that have resulted in avoidable losses of lives of innocent Nigerians and property in the last few years.

However, it is disheartening that each time whenever there is collateral damages, the military will constitute a panel of investigation with a solemn promise to get to the root of the matter in order to take appropriate measures.

Even with regard to this Zamfara incident, as usual, the military high command revealed that it has commenced an investigation on the alleged killing of those innocent civilians by the NAF airstrikes targeted at bandits.

Thus, it is hoped that this time around the citizens will see the effects of this investigation with a view to rolling out measures by the concerned authorities on how to avert future occurrences.

Because, since the commencement of military engagement to target terrorists in the North East and bandits in the North West, such mistakes have cost the deaths of many Nigerians who have been looking to the state for protection. Between 2014 and now, there have been about 13 documented incidents of the NAF bombing the wrong target. The incidences have caused the deaths of at least 176 Nigerians and injured hundreds of others.

This situation poses significant concerns for the safety of civilians and could undermine security, particularly by creating grievances that could push people towards joining terror groups.

Nonetheless, in every operation, the safety of the civilian population and their settlements must be a priority for all sides involved in this war.

MUKHTAR is a Staff Writer with the Emergency Digest