By Abubakar A. Nuhu-Koko
The world was taken aback by the sudden crumbling of the American government and its western European allies-backed democratically elected Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday, August 18th, 2021! This is coming just about twenty years (20 years) after the forceful occupation of Afghanistan by the combined efforts of foreign forces; uprooting and toppling of the Taliban fundamentalist Islamic government that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001. Taliban means “Students” – a reference to the founding members of the fundamentalist group; having studied under Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Islamic fundamentalist who formed the group in 1994 in Kandahar region after defeating the Soviets out of Afghanistan in 1989.
The American backed foreign forceful occupation of Afghanistan started in October 2001; arising from the Al-Qaida terror attack that led to the complete destruction of the two iconic World Trade Centre Towers in New York City (NYC), New York, United States of America (USA) that happened on September 11th, 2001 (a.k.a. 9/11, 2001). The ultimate withdrawal of the foreign armies from occupation of Afghanistan all started when the then President of America, Donald J. Trump, unilaterally announced his administration’s intention to end the American intervention in Afghanistan (which was one of his 2016 Presidential Campaign promises).
Hence, in fulfillment of his Presidential election campaign promise, Trump triggered the mass withdrawal of US armed forces from Afghanistan with a completion target of May 1st, 2021; without even having to consult with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) allies that fully backed the American invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, following the September 11, 2001 Al-Qaida terrorists attack in NYC and Pennsylvania.
Thus, following Trump’s monumental electoral defeat in the November 2020 Presidential election that brought President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris into office on January 20, 2021, the new administration of President Biden continued with the drawdown of the remaining US forces stationed in the various hot spot locations in the vast, and massively highly hilly territorial landmass of Afghanistan with a total population of about 40 million people. Biden’s target completion time is August 31st, 2021.
However, by the beginning of August 2021, the Taliban forces started overrunning many of the provincial cities one after another; with least or no resistance by the Afghan national forces and security services believed to be numbering about 350,000. A large number of American and NATO forces, and military contractors are also on the ground. In comparison, the Taliban fighting force is poorly trained and less equipped; without sophisticated weaponry and no air power it is estimated to be at least 75,000! However, by Sunday, August 18, 2021 the Taliban armed forces were at the gate of Kabul, the Afghan national capital city! The end result is the sudden final fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban; with President Ashraf Ghani fleeing the country and taking refuge in Dubai, United Arab Emirate (UAE). The more than two trillion dollars question is how a government with about 350,000 soldiers; well trained and well equipped by the best armies of the world, simply collapsed and melted away so quickly? This question is beginning to be answered by many military and security pundits across the globe.
As analysts provide different answers to the question, we must ask our own question here in Nigeria. Thus, are there lessons for the Nigerian Armed Forces that are waging a similar (i.e., in terms of unconventional warfare), but limited in scope, war against the combined forces of Boko Haram (BH) and the Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP) for over a decade? The answer to this later question is what this piece sets to find from our own recently rejuvenated armed forces.
Charting a New Pathway to ending Boko Haram Insurgency
Yes, there are many lessons to learn by our own Nigerian armed forces and national intelligence and security establishments from the sudden collapse of the Afghan National Armed Forces, security apparatuses and National Government in a flash! For instance, fighting the BH and ISWAP equally comes along with herculean operational challenges just as the multinational forces that fought the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan (now renamed Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan by the new Sheriffs in the country) faced. The fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban must not give any room for jubilation, triumph and morale boost to the BH and ISWAP terrorist groups well established in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region.
There are many herculean operational challenges that are very well known to the Nigerian general public and the international community and thus, there is no need for a lengthy introduction and reiteration here. Nevertheless, the prominent among these known operational challenges are: inadequate supplies and modern military hardware; alleged mismanagement of war funds; inadequate foot soldiers with guerilla warfare experience; and insufficient general welfare provisions for the fighting soldiers at the theatre of operation front and their families back home at the rear. In comparison, however, the foreign occupying forces in Afghanistan never experienced these listed inadequacies; but rather, they had over-supplies or surpluses of all of their needs – basics and non-basics (i.e., funds are not a constraining factor). Ironically and painfully, however, all the supplied items have now fallen into the wrong and dangerous hands of the Taliban forces in one swoop!!
In the case of Nigeria, however, all these inadequacies or operational challenges (largely funding as a constraining factor) notwithstanding, over the years since 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB), working in tandem with the National Assembly, made sufficient efforts to see to the overcoming of these myriad of challenges by ensuring that reasonable funds have not only been appropriated by the National Assembly but timely released by the federal ministry of finance to the appropriate quarters responsible for addressing these challenges. For instance, the armed forces, especially the Army and the Airforce, are on the verge of starting to receive deliveries of the military hardware such as the Super Tucano fighter jets (six numbers already received in-country) and supplies ordered by the federal government from overseas manufacturers. More of such purchases, especially Apache attack helicopters, are needed for the success of operation HADIN KAI and other home security challenges facing the nation at the moment.
Furthermore, additional funds (N895.8 billion) for the armed forces and security services have been solicited from the National Assembly by PMB via supplementary appropriation. The request has been acted upon by the National Assembly by increasing the amount requested by N87 billion; thereby bringing it to the sum of N982.8 billion, which has been approved and appropriated to the various armed forces and the security services, accordingly. With the issue of funding addressed, the major challenge is now to face and deal squarely with the Boko Haram insurgents “in the language they understand” (PMB, interview with Arise TV, 10th June, 2021).
An important lesson for the Nigerian armed forces from the fall of Afghanistan is that paradoxically, providing all the necessary basic and non-basic needs for the fighting forces is not the necessary condition for winning the battle and war against the religious-based insurgency! The ultimate winning formula for the Taliban fighting forces, according to a recent finding by CNN’s consummate public affairs pundit, Mr. Fareed Zakaria, is that religious fundamentalists such as the Taliban, fight for a religious ideology (not money or anything else); and are ready to give up their lives for that.
How does the Nigerian situation fit in here? I believe that the Nigerian situation, in terms of ideology and patriotism of our fighting forces, is never questionable in all ramifications. However, their enthusiasm and patriotism can be further enhanced by ensuring that their welfare and wellbeing take the front burner in war planning; strategies, tactics and funding. I believe that troops’ welfare and the wellbeing of their families are the ‘Silver Bullet Solution’ to troop’s motivation and incentive to finish the job, indeed.
But, the next level question is to what extent are these very crucial issues of welfare and wellbeing of our fighting forces being addressed by the new Service Chiefs? These multi-billion naira issues have been much talked about over the years to date. However, this time around, the Service Chiefs, Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and other National Intelligence and Security Heads under the directive of PMB have started addressing these crucial issues within their respective domains. This is where the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. General F. Yahaya and his Operation HADIN KAI Theatre Commander, Major General CG Musa are expected to make major differences as far as troop’s welfare and the wellbeing of their families are concerned, in order to win both the battle and the war against all forms of insurgencies facing the nation.
For instance, the Nigerian armed forces have a combined annual budget outlay of about N500 billion naira, according to Wikipedia. Substantial amount of the budget goes into payments of salaries and allowances; with very little going into welfare provisions for the soldiers, their families, military pension and death benefits for the widows and children of dead soldiers. It is addressing this lopsidedness in budgetary allocation by the Service Chiefs, IGP, and other arms of the National Intelligence and Security establishments that will change the tide in favour of the armed forces battling the religiously ideologically inclined Boko Haram fighters and other renegade upstarts.
In conclusion, therefore, Nigerian armed forces can learn a lot of lessons from the Afghan debacle to their own advantage, against the crumbling Boko Haram/ISWAP new leadership structure that emerged with the sudden death of its erstwhile leader Shekau, who sent himself to God to answer for his crime against the religion of Islam, Nigeria and humanity. God Bless our troops in their fight to keep us safe.
Abubakar A. Nuhu-Koko, a researcher in petroleum policy and economics, is founder and pioneer executive director, The Shehu Shagari World Institute for Leadership and Good Governance, Sokoto, Nigeria. He can be reached on +234 706 330 6887 or firstname.lastname@example.org