Boko Haram is arguable the deadliest terrorist group in the history of the African continent. It had more men and heavy weapons than the armies of some small West African countries. The Cameroon military witnessed first hand the ferocity of this terrorist group when Boko Haram invaded and occupied Cameroonian. It took 2 days for the Cameroonian Rapid Intervention Battalion to take back control.
On the afternoon of October 15, 2014, Boko Haram launched an attack of unprecedented scale on Cameroonian soil. In that hot afternoon heat 1,000 fighters crossed the barren border that separates Cameroon and Nigeria and surrounded the town of Amchidé.
Young foot soldiers armed with AK-47s with hand held loud speakers for their fanatical shrieks made up the first wave. This is designed to scare the living day light and confuse the enemy.
Next, older fighters rushed in on pickup trucks mounted with 33mm anti-aurcraft cannon and Dushka machine guns.
Last came three tanks crushing everything in their path. The insurgents overran a police station and a gendarmerie post and took control of the city, executing Cameroonian civilians who could not prove they were Muslim.
The marauders continued on to an encampment of Cameroon’s Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) 1.5 kilometers away, where they detonated a car bomb.
The Cameroon army is no pushover and despite being outnumbered Cameroonian soldiers held their ground and called for reinforcements. Within three hours, about 1,000 BIR Soldiers from other camps in the region had responded and launched a blistering counterattack that lasted nearly two days.
By the end of the siege, the Cameroonian military had taken back two occupied cities and killed 107 Boko Haram fighters while losing eight soldiers.
The terror group also conducted a second attack simultaneously in the nearby town of Limani and tried to destroy a bridge to isolate the area.
The boldness and sophistication of the attack erroneously caused the Cameroonian government to suspect it was a Nigerian army attack using Boko Haram as a front. They could no wrap their head around the fact that the much vaunted and feared Nigerian army has been unable to contain the terrorist group.
Earlier in the day Boko Haram had sent an envoy to the camp with false information, hoping to divert some of the military’s manpower.
They had become an extremely fearsome force a Cameroonian army spokesman said.
The first attacks that we sustained between the month of May and the month of October were frontal attacks, well-organized, by a terrorist force that was heavily armed with tanks. This could be a Nigerian attack. The Nigerian government had earlier expressed its displeasure and issued a stern warning over the killing of Nigerian civilians by Cameroonian gendarmes.
Distrustful of Nigeria dictator for life Paul Biya reached out to his fellow dictator Idris Derby of Chad for support.
But Cameroons suspicions was inacurate. For a year, Boko Haram had looted weapons depots and consolidated power in northeastern Nigeria. We talking about tanks, howitzers and even cluster munitions, so that by the time it crossed into Cameroon, it had amassed a miniature empire including 14 local government areas and 30,000 square kilometers, an area roughly the size of Belgium.
A strategic shift
By mid-2014 the response to the threat was beginning to take shape. Cameeroon’s military restructured its forces and launched Operation Alpha. Cameroon switched from a phase of containment of the threat to a phase of taking the initiative. Soldiers from the Rapid Intervention Battalion were tasked to locate and eradicate Boko Haram forces in northern Cameroon.
It repositioned the Motorized Infantry Brigade to Kousseri in the north, across the river from N’Djamena, Chad, and beefed up the presence of the gendarmerie, creating new outposts to clamp down on traffickers and cross-border activity.
New Cameroon Defense Capabilities
Still wary of its bigger, stronger more powerful neighbour the Cameroon military has also made an improvement in its air defence capability. In 2015 Cameroon unveiled its new air defence, the SEMIC 825 towed fire control radar and Rheinmetall 35 mm GDF anti-aircraft guns.
The SEMIC 825 were part of a major Chinese military equipment package with Cameroon. The package included a batch of NORINCO PG99 (Type 90) anti-aircraft guns and FB-16 manportable air defence system (MANPADS), as well as the fire control radars.
The SEMIC 825 performs the same role of Nigeria’s Skyguard fire control-radar often used in its AAC guns. It can aquire targets at a range of up to 40km, track them at a maximum distance of 32 km, and identify them at ranges up to 6 km.
The FN-16 can engage targets at a maximum altitude of 4,000 meters and a maximum range of 6 km. The missile uses an infrared/ultraviolet two colour quasi-imaging seeker in addition to a laser promity fuse.
The equipment was delivered to the Surface to Air Missile Regiment (RASA), t hebp Cameroonian Army’s dedicated anti-aircraft unit based UN Edea. Following the delivery the RASA has been reorganized into one command battery, one training battery, two PG99 batteries, one MANPAD battery, and one vehicle borne surface to air missile (SAM) battery.
The Cameroonian military knows it cannot hope to match Nigeria’s air power and so have been investing in air defence systems to negate its neighbours superiority in the event of a conflict.
Nigeria on the other hand has not upgraded or expanded its air-defence system since 1984 when it acquired 16 ROLAND mobile anti-aircraft missile system. There are also also about 100 Russian made Strela-2 (MANPADS).
The Nigerian military has traditionally relied more on fast high performance interceptor aircraft for strategic air defence, but the Sepecat Jaguar has been retired from service since the late eighties and the 32 MiG-21 Fishbirds interceptor jets were retired in 2004.
Twelve F-7Ni interceptors were acquired in 2006 as a stop gap measure to plug the capability gap. Nineteen years later Nigeria’s airspace is among the least defended on earth. There are about 9 F-7Ni fighters in seven of which four are kept on active standby, hardly enough to defend the nation’s airspace.