Boko Haram Tactics and Occupation Strategies
21 Apr 2015
The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and Amnesty International have released new reports on Boko Haram's attacks and the humanitarian consequences. The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics draws out the key points.
On the eve of Nigeria's natioanl elections on 28 March 2015, the Nigerian military announced that its forces had retaken Gwoza, the town that Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau had declared in August 2014 to be his group's capital. The reconquest was the culmination of a six-week campaign in collaboration with regional militaries to oust the Islamist-jihadi group from territories it had seized since July 2014, and for which the much-anticipated national elections had been postponed. Reports are now emerging about the tactics Boko Haram used to take over and rule territory and what the human costs of their atrocities in the region have been. Two reports released in April specifically investigate the strategies used by Boko Haram during its raids on towns and villages in Northeast Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger, the tactics employed in areas it controlled, and the heavy humanitarian costs of its continuing activities.
Amnesty International's report, ' Our Job is to Shoot, Slaughter and Kill: Boko Haram's Reign of Terror in Northeast Nigeria,' outlines Boko Haram activities and strategies in 2014, when the group launched its campaign of territorial seizure and escalated its cross-border attacks into the broader Lake Chad Basin region. The report is based on 377 testimonies from local officials, military personnel, human rights defenders, and civilians who witnessed attacks.
The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre released a briefing paper ' Boko Haram's Terror Ripples Through the Region' in which it discusses the human costs of Boko Haram's insurgency, number of internally displaced persons (IDPs), and representative patterns in refugee and IDP displacement patterns.
- The number of people displaced in Cameroon, Niger and Chad because of cross-border Boko Haram attacks is now roughly equivalent to the number of Nigerian refugees already in those countries: 200,000 people.
- There are approximately 24.5 million people in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, and the number of people displaced from and within this region is approximately 1.2 million. Because of Boko Haram's tendency to burn buildings and homes, many displaced have no home to return to.
- The number of Cameroonian IDPs tripled to 170,000 between December 2014 and April 2015 because of increased Boko Haram attacks.
- There are an estimated 50,000 Nigerien IDPs who have fled violence between February and April 2015 when Boko Haram escalated its attacks in that country. Most people have fled toward the city of Zinder in the country's south-centre, while the town of Bosso on the shore of Lake Chad remains largely deserted.
- In Chad, some 14,500 people have fled within the country, draining the country's capacity to absorb them in addition to those Chadians and Nigerians who previously fled Northeast Nigeria and had already been sheltering in the country.
Warnings of impending attacks went unheeded.
- There are also discernable, though not comprehensive, patterns of IDP and refugee movement. Most people flee to an area within their own state, but Boko Haram's repeated and expanding attacks force people to flee multiple times and further afield. This decreases the connections people have to host communities, making them more vulnerable to humanitarian stresses as well as stigmatisation and abuse from host communities. Women and girls are especially vulnerable and human and sex trafficking has increased among IDP and refugee communities, as have forced and child marriages.
- Another trend that is appearing is that families are being separated because Boko Haram attacks occur while family members are in different places. The Nigerian government recently registered over 760 unaccompanied children and there are likely many more. Boko Haram also began preventing people from crossing national borders to safety, forcing them to remain in areas under the group's control.
- Boko Haram escalated its attacks in 2014. Attacks were more frequent, better organised and had higher casualty rates. From July the group began seizing territory.
- Warnings of impending Boko Haram attacks were often sent to village leaders, who would pass them on to military representatives with requests for assistance. Many of these warnings went unheeded.
- Attacks continued to focus on soft targets, especially focusing on public places to ensure high casualty figures such as markets, transport hubs, and schools. Boko Haram also targetted people associated with the government (politicians, religious leaders traditional rulers) for killing and specifically targetted towns and villages that had established, or were believed to be associated with vigilante protection and traditional hunter groups opposing the group. In communities that had a Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) presence especially, but also in many of its other attacks, the group did not distinguish between members and other men and boys of fighting age.
- Raids by the group ranged from two to three fighters, to hundreds. During smaller raids, civilians were often rounded up and preached to, buildings were looted and burned, and women and girls, as well as sometimes fighting-aged boys were kidnapped, but most often killed. At other points, smaller raids focused on indiscriminant killings and looting. Larger attacks tended to split fighters into groups for different tasks. These included house-to-house looting and burning, looting shops, murdering civilians, abducting residents, preventing residents from fleeing. Larger raids often killed 100 or more people in a single attack.
Boko Haram focused on public places ensuring high casualties.
- When Boko Haram attacked a town to occupy, it often followed a pattern, which was framed through 122 interviews about the capture of 30 towns and villages. Most larger or strategically important towns had at least some military presence, so Boko Haram would send its heavier weaponry against the military aiming to gain access to the armoury. Military personnel were also sought out and murdered before fighters moved on to civilians. Within the first hours or days, fighting-age men and boys were killed along with civil servants and any others seen to oppose Boko Haram. Shops, markets and large houses were looted. Women, children and the elderly would be rounded up and detained. When killings halted, women were forced to bury the dead, often in mass graves and days after they were killed.
- After sweeping a town and killing all perceived as military, government, CJTF or otherwise opposed to BH were killed, armouries, houses, and markets looted, fighters began preaching to remaining villagers and handing out food. In some towns, such as Madagali in Adamawa state, men and boys were gathered together and told to join. Those who refused or hesitated had their throats slight.
- In areas under the group's control, it enforced harsh punishments. There was a focus on negative reinforcement governance. Men and boys were killed or forced to join Boko Haram, women and girls were raped and forcibly married.
Fighting-age men and boys were killed indiscriminantly.
- Communities' social cohesion is fraying because people can, in a bid to save themselves, point Boko Haram attackers toward another who might be considered a more valuable target, sowing suspicion.
- As Boko Haram retreated from towns in February and March 2015, it would burn buildings and houses, often locking people inside them first. In Bama, fighters told some civilians still in the town to leave before they retreated, but the prison had people in it when it was burned and witnesses report that a number of elderly men and women were locked into their homes before they were set alight.
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