Its December 2016 and the Nigerian army has just done the impossible. It is pushed the world’s deadliest terrorist group out of its last major stronghold in the Sambisa forest. A year before Boko Haram controlled an area the size of Costa -Rica, encompassing 21 local governments and cutting off 2 million Nigerians from the the rest of the country. Boko Haram did what Biafra, Chad and Cameroon tried but failed to achieve, hold take over and hold unto Nigerian territory for a year.
The Nigerain army had a hard time taking back these lost territories much less defeating Boko Haram in its main envlav in the Sambisa. But all that changed after the 2015 elections. The electoral violence and subsequent killing the U.S had predicted never materialized. Too bad for the 300 Marines Obama deployed to Ghana days before the election, ready to move in and evacuate Americans when the killings starts.
Subsequently in less than nine months the Nigerian army had not only taken back all lost territories, it had also dislodged Boko Haram from the 66,00 square kilometres Sambisa forest, the Impregnanble fortress of the group, a feat thought Impossible.
It should be recalled that the Nigeria’s attempt to replace weapons lost to attrition was countered by the Obama administration, who slammed an arm’s embargo on Nigeria over its treatment of Boko Haram prisoners, an allegation supported by Amnesty International without concrete proof. Nigeria’s arms agreement with Israel for the sale of Cobra attack helicopters was also torpedoed by the Obama administration, while Hillary Clinton, the joint architect of the destruction of Libya vehemently refused to have the U.S State Department officially recognize Boko Haram as a terrorist organisation, therefore requiring the U.S government by law to help the Nigerian military in its fight for survival.
A month later a Hercules C-130 transport aircraft took off from a Pakistani airbase enroute to Nigeria. The aircraft was intercepted over Saudi airspace by F-15 fighters and forced to land. An inspection of the cargo revealed de-assembled french Gazelle helicopters. Needless to say the cargo was impounded.
The Nigerian government retaliated when a French chattered Antonov cargo aircraft was forced to land over Nigerian air space in Kano. The pilot’s were detained by airport security after an inspection revealed several Gazelle helicopters. The French government insisted the consignments were for the Chadian airforce and demanded it be released.
The powers that be struck back, this time closer to home. A furor arose between Africa’s two powerhouses when South African airport authorities seized $15 million meant for the procurement of arms for the Nigerian military from two Nigerian and Israeli agents who arrived the country in a private jet. South African agent found an invoice for helicopters and armament meant for Nigeria.
South Africa, earlier slightest by Nigeria’s decision to slam an unprecedented mount of fine ($5 billion) on a South African company MTN saw this as an opportunity to embarrass the Nigerian government. The Nigerian government accused Pretoria of being a lap dog for the CIA. The South African government decried the comment as irresponsible and insisted Nigeria broke South Africa’s laws by illegally smuggling in $15 million in cash.
Though the funds were returned after weeks, this incident was a wake up call for the Nigerian government. The West, Nigeria’s traditional ally was determined to cripple Nigeria’s war effort. Looking east was the logical option for Nigeria and they delivered.
Attack drones secretly procured from China, T-17M tanks from the Czech Republic and Mi-35M helicopter gunships from Russia were delivered without preconditions. No drama, no press release, just business.
With new weapons the Nigerian army abandoned its trenches and went scorched earth on Boko Haram. The Jihadi group Boko Haram did not see it coming neither were they prepared.
The capture of Sambisa was an unexpected surprise. What happened next and the failure of the Nigerian intelligence Agency laid the foundation for the mess Nigeria finds itself in today, one in which there is almost no hope of escape.
Just weeks after the much publicized fall of Camp Zero in the Sambisa, the U.S military suddenly negotiated an agreement with the government of Niger to allow for the construction of a new military base and all associate infrastructure in the city of Agadez. Embedded in its request to Congress was $180 million for construction and support operations.
The Agadez Air Base 201 was now the largest air man-built project in the history of the worlds most powerful Air Force.
The base was completed in less than three months. So the U.S spent a quarter of a billion dollars in the largest Air man built project in Air Force history in a remote desert in Niger Republic, one of the poorest country in the world, a country that had no strategic ecomomic or political value to the U.S.
Within weeks of the completion of the record breaking project, U.S President Barack Obama announced that the United States, the worlds oldest constitutional democracy is establishing another drone base in Cameroon and will deploy up to three hundred military personnel. A move that was enthusiastically welcomed by Africa’s longest serving dictator Paul Biya. The drone base he said will provide intelligence support to Cameroon, Niger and Chadian military fighting Boko Haram.
The world bastion of democracy that had no problem slamming an arm’s embargo on Nigeria, the 4th largest democracy in the world and its biggest trading partner in Africa, was now strengthening its partnership with two of Africa’s most ruthless authoritarian dictators, Chad and Cameroon. Idris Derby of Chad has ruled for 21 years and Paul Biya, currently holds the title of the world’s longest serving dictatorship, holding power for 37 years.
With the establishment of the worlds most sophisticated surveillance drone base in Niger, Chad and Cameroon, the United States is now fully entrenched in the affairs of West Africa, and after investing over half billion on these projects, it is virtually impossible for the U.S to abandon its investment and leave West Africa. They will be here forever, and history has shown that anywhere the U.S military set up shop, unrest, violence and even war comes shortly thereafter.
MQ-9 REAPER UAV
A single MQ-9 Reaper costs $16.9 million. The MQ-9 Reaper is arguably the world’s most sophisticated an deadliest surveillance aircraft. Built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems , the MQ-9 Reaper is a 66 ft medium altitude aircraft used for ISR intelligence gathering and precision strikes against enemy targets. It provides a broad overview and systematic surveillance using Hugh resolution synthetic apoeture radar (SAR) and long range eoectri-optical/infrared (EQ/IR) sensors with long loiter time over target areas.
The MQ-9 carries the Huges integrated surveillance and reconnaissance sensor system. It integrates a ST MTI system along with an optical and thermography imager. All three sensors are controlled and their outputs filtered by a common processor and transmitted in real time t up to 50 Mbit/s to ground station.
The MQ-9 is capable of taking high resolution and infra red images as well as can intercept telephone and radio chatter. It can survey as much as 40,000 square miles or 100,000 km2 of terrain in a day. This is equivalent to the size of South Korea. These drones can cover every part of Nigeria’s northeast and border area with relative ease.
The MQ-9 has a range of more than 12,000 nautical miles, can fly at very high altitudes of 60,000 ft and can keep loitering for around 34 hours without beak. This aircraft is without peer. One single MQ-9 Reaper drone unit carries more offensive punch than the entire Air Force fleet of all 16 ECOWAS states plus Cameroon and Chad combined. Although highly unlikely, the U.S can in theory decapitate the Nigerian government in one strike and nobody will know who was responsible.
To put the awesome power of this machine into perspective lets look at the strikes that killed the alleged mastermind of 9/11 and attacks on the USS Cole in Yemen. The U.S pilot operating the drone was in Djibouti, while the commander overseeing the operation was in Saudi Arabia. This drone has been responsible for killing both high level target in Iraq and A-Stan as well as possible targets such as insurgents spotted planting a roadside bomb.
The Reaper has a speed of 482km/h, fast enough for hovering back and forth in the skies in search of troop movements and destroy enemy personnel and vehicles on the move. This drone can fly about 9 times farther and twice as high as any aircraft in the NAF inventory with the exception of the F-7Ni interceptor.
One important thing to know about the Reaper is that they are deployed in groups of four. Each Reaper system consists of four individual Reaper drones operated by four different flight teams.
Make no mistake, these drones are active as you read this article. The U.S does not deploy a $16 million sophisticated drone to a $100 million base halfway across the world to sit on aircraft tarmacs. The operations of these UAVs are in motion 24 hours a day. So a team at a base in Iraq may be responsible for take off and landing but then hand over control to a team in Ethiopia. This way there are fewer teams overseas landing drones all day and more teams based in the USA who are responsible for the Reaper during the duration of its mission, which often lasts as long as a full 24 hours.
But in West Africa America is re-writing the rules of its drone operations. Since the capture of the Sambisa forest in December 2016 the U.S has negotiated, constructed and brought online a staggering four Reaper drone base. One in Garoua Cameroon, two in Agadez and Niamey, Niger Republic, one in Chad and one in Mali, all within the space of two years. This is the largest airmen built project in U.S Air Force history.
Assuming just one squadron of Reaper drone units are deployed to each country, there are around 28 of the world’s deadliest most sophisticated combat drones all within 25 minutes flight time to the Nigerian border. This is the single largest concentration of Reaper drone bases outside the United States.
According to the USAF the Reapers main purpose is to hunt and kill enemy combatants constantly. So this begs the question, with so much Intelligence gathering, surveillance and strike platforms in the region how on earth is Boko Haram is still able to carry out attacks in broad day light for hours over and over and over again without detection?
How is Boko Haram able to move easily to and fro the borders into countries housing U.S drones, carry out training, reinforce its ranks, smuggle in weapons and launch more attacks without detection?
How is ISIS (like the U.S insists ) able to smuggle men and material from the Middle East all the way to Nigeria in absolutely stealth?
How does the U.S know ISIS is settinp shop in Nigeria? How come Boko Haram seems to be waxing stronger,getting more tactical , more sophisticated and more daring in its attack in the same period the U.S is increasing its footprint in West Africa?
How does Boko Haram carry out night attacks on Nigerian military bases without much night vision equipments. Attacking an army formation is no means an easy feat to pull. In entails a lot of Intelligence gathering on troop location, number of troops, weapons placement and defensive perimeters. This in turn entails a high level of real time intelligence gathering. If so where is Boko Haram getting its intelligence from?
These are the questions Nigerians have to ask since the Nigerian government has shown no interest in keeping an eye on the force build up on its borders and the terrible consequences that comes with it.
There was no U.S drone presence when Boko Haram was forced to abandon it dream of a Caliphte and beat a hasty retreat back to the Sambisa, its impregnable fortress where it was ultimately forced to abandon and flee. Two years after the largest concentration of U.S drone bases in the world, Nigeria is worse off than it was before the presence of U.S forces.
Bok Haram is better trained, better armed, have access to real time intelligence and to make matters worse, the U.S now insists the ISIS threat has miraculously moved from Syria to Nigeria. This theoretically gives the U,S legal rights to go after ISIS in Nigeria…..what a stroke of luck and coincidence that the U.S just happened to have six drone bases at the right place at the right time in an area ISIS has decided to setup shop.