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PSC to approve final plans for the regional fight against Boko Haram
24 February 2015

The draft concept of operations (CONOPS) for the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) set up to fight Boko Haram in north-eastern Nigeria and its border regions is to be reviewed by the Peace and Security Council (PSC) in the course of this week.

Already, countries in the region are mobilising forces to fight the terrorist group, which has increased its attacks in neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The force’s funding, however, remains a major outstanding issue and the African Union (AU) is planning a funding conference in this regard next month.

As a follow-up to its decision of 29 January 2015, the PSC is scheduled to hold a session on the steps being taken for the operationalisation of the MNJTF against Boko Haram of the Lake Chad Basin Countries (LCBC) and Benin.

It should be recalled that at its 29 January summit-level meeting, which was held on the eve of the 24th AU Assembly Summit in Addis Ababa, the PSC authorised the MNJTF’s deployment. In that decision, the PSC also expressed its expectation that the AU would finalise the drawing up of the CONOPS for the MNJTF.

Countries increase force strength to 8 700

Nigeria is the largest contributor with 3 250 personnel, followed by Chad with 3 000

At a meeting held in Yaoundé, Cameroon, on 5–7 February experts from the Lake Chad Basin Commission and the AU, with the participation of experts from the Economic Community of West African States, the European Union and the United Nations (UN), finalised the draft operational plans. Apart from defining the MNJTF’s mandate and deciding upon its headquarters, the plans outline the mission’s area of operation and end state. They also elaborate upon the strategic coordination, rules of engagement, and requirements for supporting and sustaining the mission.

The draft concept also outlines the establishment of a central military command and joint coordination mechanism that will have control over troops contributed by LCBC members and Benin. Unlike the AU’s experience with the Regional Task Force for the Elimination of the Lord’s Resistance Army (which partly inspired the MNJTF framework), which has a single controlling authority, the AU and LCBC will jointly hold strategic-level control of the MNJTF. Operational command and control of the force will be held by a force commander rotating among LCBC members and Benin.

Although the PSC summit decision of 29 January set the MNJTF’s force size at 7 500, during the Yaoundé meeting representatives of Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria announced that they wished to increase the size by 1 200 personnel. Nigeria is the largest contributor with 3 250 personnel, followed by Chad with 3 000. It is envisaged that the CONOPS will be submitted to the PSC together with an estimate of the initial budget of the mission.

At a meeting of member states of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) the Special Representative of the Chairperson of the Commission to Central African Republic and the Region, General Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, stated that Boko Haram attacks had killed tens of thousands of civilians, displaced hundreds of thousands and carried out numerous atrocities.

Operational command and control of the force will be held by a force commander rotating among LCBC members and Benin

Region already mobilising against Boko Haram

While planning for the MNJTF is being finalised, the military campaign against Boko Haram is gathering momentum. While Nigeria postponed the general elections scheduled for 14 February by six weeks until 28 March in order to launch an offensive against Boko Haram, Chadian troops have continued their fight against the terrorist group in north-eastern Nigeria. On 17 February Chadian troops made significant progress by retaking the town of Dikwa, which had been under Boko Haram control for months. The Nigerian army was also reported to have recaptured Baga, the previous headquarters of the MNJTF, from which its soldiers fled after a Boko Haram attack in January 2015, and the garrison town of Monguno.

Despite the gains being registered, Boko Haram’s attacks have continued unabated. Recent attacks affected Gombe and Biu. On Saturday, 14 February hundreds of Boko Haram fighters attacked Gombe, using heavy gunfire and distributing leaflets calling on residents to boycott the Nigerian general elections. On 17 February a suicide bomber killed at least 36 people in the Borno town of Biu. On 19 February Boko Haram attacked localities near Chibok, killing 21 people. Over 200 schoolgirls were abducted from Chibok in April last year.

The group has also expanded its attacks on neighbouring states. On 19 February reports indicated that Boko Haram attacked Tourba Guida village in south-eastern Niger, killing three people. In the previous week, thousands of residents fled the border town of Diffa following a series of raids and suicide bombings. Earlier, on 12 February, Boko Haram carried out its first attack against a village in Chad. The Cameroonian army also reported that it lost five soldiers in a clash with Boko Haram on 16 February in the Waza region in the far north of the country, near the border with Nigeria.

Despite the gains being registered, Boko Haram’s attacks have continued unabated

AU seeks funding from the UN and others

In terms of its operationalisation, one of the major the issues facing the MNJTF is that of funding. During the 29 January PSC summit Nigeria pledged to contribute resources to support the force. Despite the fact that the institutional and legal frameworks for the MNJTF’s operationalisation are still being worked out, some countries have already deployed their troops and started their offensive against Boko Haram. Notable in this regard is the deployment of Chadian troops in Cameroon and Nigeria. These troops engaged in the fight against Boko Haram are said to receive funding and other support from Nigeria.

During the summit-level meeting of ECCAS member states decided to establish an emergency fund of 50 billion CFA (about $110 million) for the fight against Boko Haram.

At the AU level the 29 January PSC summit decision also envisaged two related plans for mobilising funding for the MNJTF. The first was a UN Security Council (UNSC) authorisation of the establishment by the Secretary-General of a trust fund to pay for MNJTF operations. The second was the PSC’s request for the AU Commission to organise – by mid-March 2015 and with UN support – a donors’ conference to facilitate the mobilisation of the required resources. While its convergence with the rising global concern over terrorism is likely to play a role, the success of this conference in mobilising the required funds will depend on the degree of global confidence in the workability of the MNJTF as an effective framework to defeat Boko Haram.

Following its consideration and adoption by the PSC, the CONOPS will serve as the basis for the UNSC to both consider and endorse the PSC’s decision authorising the deployment of the MNJTF and formulate the mechanisms for UN, bilateral and other multilateral support for the force.

In terms of its operationalisation, one of the major the issues facing the MNJTF is that of funding

As the AU and LCBC move to the next stage of the actual operationalisation of the MNJTF, attention should be drawn to the factors that will impact on its effectiveness. Nigeria’s role and leadership is key in this regard. Unless Nigeria is at the front and centre of MNJTF operations, it is unlikely that the force will make any progress against Boko Haram. As the recent aerial bombing of local communities in Niger illustrates, coordination and the unfettered sharing of information/intelligence are also key.

Another factor is the technical, logistical, and financial support that the MNJTF will receive on a multilateral and bilateral basis. In this regard the deployment by France and the United States of some of their special forces to Ndjamena – the headquarters of the MNJTF – to assist the force with aerial and other intelligence about Boko Haram’s movements is a welcome development. Experience from similar situations such as those in Somalia or Mali suggests that the MNJTF’s military-heavy approach will not conclusively resolve the Boko Haram threat unless it is anchored on and/or accompanied by a comprehensive political strategy. It is also important that, together with MNJTF operations against Boko Haram, the LCBC member states and the AU should take steps to cut off both the terrorist group’s sources of funding and its support base. Similarly, the support of local communities in the MNJTF’s areas of operation will be critical.  

Finally, the various MNJTF operational phases and timelines envisaged in the CONOPS should be seen as indicative and their implementation should be adjusted in light of developments on the ground.

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