Last week, Nigeria announced the creation of an Army Special Operations Command (NASOC) at a Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Insurgency Lessons Learned Exchange between the United States and Nigeria. I’d been tracking developments with regard to bilateral security cooperation and had heard about the creation of NASOC when I was in Nigeria last summer, which is why this announcement piqued my interest. According to the Nigerian Army’s Chief of Transformation and Innovation, NASOC would be a “low density high level strategic utility force capable of conducting direct action at low visibility operations. NASOC operation will be governed by precision of conduct, accuracy timely, speed and execution, surprise to keep any adversary off balance while in special operations.” (I’m not gonna lie – I have no clue what this quote actually means, but I digress.)
The announcement of the NASOC preceded President Goodluck Jonathan’s sacking of some of his Chiefs of Defence (the equivalent of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the United States) a few days later. As part of this reshuffle, former Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, took over from Admiral Ola Sa’ad Ibrahim as Chief of Defence Staff (position equivalent to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the U.S.), Air Vice Marshal Adesola Nunayon Amosu took over for Badeh as Chief of Air Staff (position equivalent to the Air Force Chief of Staff in the U.S.), Major General Kenneth Tobiah Jacob Minimah took over for Lieutenant General Azubike O. Ihejirika as Chief of Army Staff (position equivalent to the Army Chief of Staff in the U.S.), and Rear Admiral Usman O. Jibrin took over from Vice Admiral Dele Joseph Ezeoba as Chief of Naval Staff (position equivalent to the Chief of Naval Operations in the U.S.). Air Marshal Badeh, the new Chief of Defence Staff, hails from Adamawa state, which is one of three Nigerian states (the others being Borno and Yobe states) in which President Jonathan had declared a Boko Haram-related state of emergency that is set to expire in April 2014, unless it is renewed for a second time. At the moment, I do not know what, if any correlation there is between the Chiefs of Defence reshuffle and the establishment of NASOC to counter the Boko Haram insurgency.
Through U.S Africa Command (AFRICOM), U.S. Special Operations Command, Africa (SOCAFRICA), and the Office of Security Cooperation in the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, the United States will be helping stand up the NASOC by providing training and a limited amount of equipment. From the information I have, it sounds like NASOC will have a force up North to deal with Boko Haram, a force in the South to deal with security in the Niger Delta, a Headquarters force to focus on hostage rescue, and an expeditionary force for external use – perhaps to contribute specialized capabilities for peacekeeping operations. Unfortunately, I don’t know the precise size of NASOC or of its component forces.
One reason U.S. support to establish NASOC is significant is that I have not gotten the sense that the U.S. military had as strong service-to-service relations with the Nigerian military as it would like, and working with them to establish NASOC provides opportunities to strengthen the army-to-army relationship. In addition, as a new command, NASOC will need to create military units from scratch, which avoids some of the tensions surrounding Leahy vetting that have impeded bilateral security cooperation as a result of the Nigerian government’s heavy-handed approach to Boko Haram in the North. (The Leahy Amendment requires that partner nation military units that receive U.S. security assistance are vetted to ensure that they have not been implicated in gross human rights violations.) Just to give you an example of the extent to which allegations of human rights violations by the Nigerian military had recently affected Leahy vetting:
One of the ways the United States provides security assistance to Nigeria and other countries on the African continent is through Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA), which trains partner nation militaries to participate in peacekeeping operations. You may recall that during the first six months of 2013, Nigeria contributed approximately 1/6 of the troops to the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) before they had to withdraw most of their troops in July. These troops likely received ACOTA training prior to their deployment. In April, Human Rights Watch published satellite imagery from the town of Baga in Borno State, showing 2,275 destroyed and 125 severely damaged buildings, and asking the Nigerian government to investigate allegations that soldiers carried out widespread destruction and killing in the town. Although the Baga incident was just one of many allegations of human rights violations by the Nigerian military in its fight against Boko Haram, my understanding is that most military units rotate personnel through northern Nigeria, and as a result, Nigerian military units were becoming tainted by association as far as Leahy vetting goes. As a result, Nigeria’s domestic handling of Boko Haram was raising questions over whether the United States would be able to support Nigerian troop contributions to Mali and other peacekeeping missions.
Thus to bring us back to the establishment of NASOC and the U.S. military’s support for this effort – will the newly-created “clean” NASOC units be able to avoid the human rights violations that have restricted the space for U.S. military engagement with their non-special forces counterparts?
Yesterday, Nigeria’s The Guardian newspaper reported that President Goodluck Jonathan has ordered the withdrawal of Nigerian troops currently deployed to Mali. Nigerian troops initially entered Mali in January 2013 as part of the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA), and had come under the command of the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), effective 1 July and authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 2100. With 4,684 troops currently participating in UN peacekeeping operations around the world, Nigeria is the third largest African contributor to such missions. In Mali in particular, as of mid-June, Nigeria had 991 troops in Mali (according to my numbers), meaning that one out of every six AFISMA soldiers came from Nigeria.
At this point, I’ve considered a few reasons that could be behind Nigeria’s motivation to withdraw from Mali:
- The first, and most likely reason Nigeria may pull out of Mali is the uptick in Boko Haram violence in northern Nigeria. In mid-May, President Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the northeastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, and the government believed that the progress of the security forces’ subsequent offensive was encouraging. However, Boko Haram’s continued attacks on soft targets in northern Nigeria, such as the pre-dawn attack on a secondary school in Yobe state earlier this month may have led the Nigerian government to reconsider its commitment in Mali.
- For a second reason Nigeria may be withdrawing from Mali, recall the criticisms levied against the Nigerian military in the fall of 2012 – just before its deployment to Mali. The Nigerian military was accused of being incapable of carrying out forward operations in Mali, to which the Nigerian government rebutted that the military had proper training for an engagement in Mali, but simply required funding and logistic support. Furthermore, as the most capable military in West Africa, Nigeria had previously been successful in restoring peace to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Truth be told, all ECOWAS troop contributing nations faced significant difficulties deploying troops to Mali, so pre-deployment challenges were not unique to Nigeria, but rather a common problem that afflicts many African deployments to peacekeeping missions.
- The third, and in my opinion, least likely reason is that Nigeria was slighted by the selection of Major General Jean Bosco Kazura of Rwanda as the MINUSMA Force Commander instead of Major General Shehu Adbulkadir from Nigeria, who had been the AFISMA force commander since January. If you had been following the debates surrounding the selection of the MINUSMA force commander closely, you might recall that there had been speculation of a competition between Nigeria and Chad for the position of MINUSMA force commander. Chadian President Idris Déby sought the position for Chad as recognition of the role that Chadian troops had played in the January-February offensive to clear northern Mali of Ansar Dine, MUJAO, AQIM, et al. Allegedly, in order to avoid choosing between Chad and Nigeria, the UN chose Kazura – a force commander from neither country who has the added benefit of being francophone. Again, this seems like the least likely motivation because, quite simply put, it seems petty.
Regardless of Nigeria’s motivation for potentially pulling its troops from Mali, I believe that the impact would have been worst if Nigeria had not deployed as part of AFISMA in the first place. If you think of French, Chadian, and AFISMA roles and missions in Mali since January in terms of “clear, hold, build” the French and the Chadians were the “clear” element, while the Nigerians as part of AFISMA were the “hold” element. (I don’t think we’re at the “build” stage as yet.) If Nigeria, as the seat of ECOWAS and the largest contributor to UN peacekeeping operations in ECOWAS, had not been part of that initial AFISMA deployment, it is unlikely that the force would have gotten off the ground in the first place. So yeah, it wouldn’t be great if the Nigerians end up pulling out of MINUSMA, but in my opinion, it could have been far worse had they not contributed to AFISMA in the first place.
The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) released its Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships Report for the Period 1 January – 30 September 2012. I often find these reports helpful in tracking trends with regard piracy and armed robbery at sea, but it is important to read the reports with two things in mind. First, unlike IMB’s Annual Report, the Quarterly Reports only cover trends from the beginning of that calendar year to the end of Q1 (March), Q2 (June), or Q3 (September). Therefore, many of the facts and figures quoted in the media and here below may only be for the first 9 months of 2012. It is important to draw comparisons between these numbers and the corresponding time periods in previous years, as opposed to 2010 or 2011 as a whole. Second, these reports only account for reported incidents. Thus, it is possible that the scale of pirate attacks is underrepresented due to underreporting on the part of the targeted vessels for a variety of reasons (i.e., fears over spike in insurance rates, fears of scaring away other commercial activity from those waters, etc).
According to the report, global piracy incidents are decreasing – with 233 attacks worldwide, down from 352 for the corresponding time period in 2011. However, of the 233 attacks that took place between January and September 2012, 131 of these occurred in Africa. Of the 131 attacks that occurred in Africa, 70 took place off the coast of Somalia (to include the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean, and Oman) and 34 took place in the vicinity of Nigeria (to include the area off the coasts of Benin and Togo).
Looking at these numbers compared with last year, there’s good news and some kind of bad news. The good news is that last year, there were 199 actual or attempted attacks off the coast of Somalia between January and September, compared with 70 for the corresponding time period in 2012. IMB attributes this drop to a combination of factors such as 1) multinational naval patrols, 2) employment of Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia Based Piracy (Version 4 – August 2011), 3) use of Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASP), and the effects of the SW monsoons.
The kind of bad news is that attacks off the coasts of Nigeria, Togo, and Benin (hereafter referred to collectively as the Gulf of Guinea) have increased – slightly – from 30 to 34. What’s important with regard to the Gulf of Guinea is not the numbers themselves, but the shifting locale of the attacks. Between January and September 2011:
there were 6 attacks off the coast of Nigeria, compared with 21 in 2012 (3x increase)
there were 5 attacks off the coast of Togo, compared with 11 in 2012 (2x increase)
there were 19 attacks off the coast of Benin, compared with 2 in 2012 (9x decrease)
Notice that even as attacks in the Gulf of Guinea are increasing, attacks in Benin in particular have been drastically reduced. According to an Africa maritime security SME I spoke with recently (on an unrelated matter), Benin is apparently far ahead of its West African neighbors in developing a strategy to secure its maritime domain. This may be why, when faced with a sudden spike in attacks, Benin and Nigeria commenced joint counter-piracy patrols last fall. The IMB attributes the decreased number of attacks to these patrols. When compared with Nigeria, which has a 530 mile coastline, smaller countries like Benin and Togo which have coastlines of 75 miles and 35 miles respectively, have a relatively smaller area to monitor and patrol. So this may explain why these joint patrols have been successful for Benin, but not for Nigeria. Although I don’t know much about Togo’s maritime capabilities, I suspect that one reason pirates have expanded their range to Togo may be because Benin’s patrols pushed would-be pirates into Togolese waters, where the authorities may not be doing enough to counter these threats.
Anyway, if you have any interest in seeing the full 2012 IMB Q3 report, you can request it by filling out a form on IMB’s website. A few minutes later, you’ll get an email with a broken link, but if you email them back saying it doesn’t work, they’ll email you a PDF right away.
Over the weekend, gunmen attacked a vessel belonging to an oil services company in the Niger Delta, which resulted in the death of two Nigerian sailors guarding the vessel and the kidnapping of four expatriates. In response to the attacks, the Nigerian navy has dispatched a ship and a helicopter to the area.
According to the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB), instances of piracy and armed robbery at sea are increasing in West Africa – most notably in Nigeria. If you look at the IMB’s Report for the Period of 1 January – 30 June 2012 (request a PDF here), you can see that there were 17 actual or attempted attacks in the first six months of 2012. This is compared with 10 attacks for the entirety of 2011 – and is trending towards the number of attacks for the same six-month period of time in 2007 (19 attacks) and 2008 (18 attacks).
Saturday’s attack came just days after the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) announced that the country’s crude oil production had reached an all-time high of 2.7m barrels per day. According to the NNPC’s group managing director, the increase in output was attributed to the security measures put in place by the federal government in the region, which had begun to yield positive results.
In the 2008-2009 time period, attacks on Nigeria’s oil industry as a result of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and other militant groups had become so disruptive that Angola overtook Nigeria as Africa’s largest oil producer for some time. However, the level of violence in the region has declined since the federal government’s June 2009 amnesty program. Nonetheless, residents of the region are concerned about how long the amnesty program will continue to be supported by the government, and what might happen to it if/when President Goodluck Jonathan is voted out of office or does not run in the 2015 elections.
On a somewhat related note, the NNS Andoni, Nigeria’s first domestically designed and constructed warship was launched in June. At 100ft long and reaching speeds of up to 25 knots, the Nigerian navy hopes that the NNS Andoni will increase its ability to deter or pursue pirates operating near the country’s offshore oilfields.
I am not aware of plans to construct other vessels in Nigeria. Regardless, whether Nigeria builds its own warships or commissions them from abroad, it will be important to pay attention to whether or not the government has allocated funding to maintain its fleet. In my experience, countries that do not budget for maritime security tend to have a poor maintenance culture, and their vessels quickly cease to be capable of getting underway on a regular basis.
Yesterday, the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre released its quarterly report on Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships, which highlighted the rise in pirate attacks in West Africa – mainly in Nigeria. While there were 10 reported pirate attacks in Nigeria for all of 2011, in the first three months of 2012, there have already been 10 attacks. Attacks perpetrated by Nigerian pirates have also been occurring elsewhere in the region, such as the one additional attack in neighboring Benin. Furthermore, incidents are occurring further away from land (in excess of 70 nm), which suggests that Nigerian pirates are using fishing vessels as motherships to increase their range of operations. This is a contrast to attacks perpetrated in the early days of Niger Delta piracy, which were actually cases of armed robbery at sea – cases where vessels were attacked in port or in Nigeria’s territorial waters.
The expanding range of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea emphasizes the ever-increasing need for not only increased maritime security capabilities of regional countries, but also greater regional coordination and information-sharing to address this transnational problem. However, in the Gulf of Guinea, there are many challenges associated with regional cooperation to counter maritime threats, including insufficient maritime assets (i.e., air, sea, surveillance, and communications) to pursue suspected pirates or respond to information that suspicious activity is afoot in their waters; disparities in maritime assets and capabilities due to a lack of continuous funding from land-focused governments; lack of appropriate relationships or communications mechanisms to share information on real-time cross-border illicit activity; and finally, the operational seam between the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), whose member states are most affected by maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea.
I always appreciate opportunities to learn about these issues up close, and as luck would have it, I was able to do so when I observed a multinational counter-piracy exercise from an operations center in Douala, Cameroon last March. After the exercise’s pre-sail, I was offered the chance to ride the pilot boat from the port of Douala out to the point where the Wouri River meets the Atlantic Ocean in order to meet the NNS Kyanwa that had sailed down from Nigeria. The next morning, I awoke to reports that heavily armed pirates had sailed down from the Niger Delta, all the way up the Wouri River (past the Cameroon Navy base), moored their speedboats, walked into the Bonaberi neighborhood, and proceeded to rob two banks for a few hours before hopping back in their boats, speeding down the river, and heading back towards the Niger Delta.
Having traveled part of that path the day prior (although at a much slower speed than pirates in speedboats), I gained an appreciation for how long it took to travel between the port of Douala and the point where the Wouri meets the Atlantic. And although there had been three similar bank robberies in Limbe, Cameroon in September 2008, I was also pretty amused at the sheer irony of having several warships either in the port of Douala or anchored in the Atlantic for a multinational counter-piracy exercise…when a cross-border pirate attack occurred. Fortunately (or unfortunately for the pirates), Cameroon’s Bataillon d’Intervention Rapide (BIR) caught up with the pirates just before they entered Nigeria and either killed or apprehended many of them after a firefight.
In spite of the outcome of this attack, this story calls attention to the fact that individual countries cannot address this transnational challenge alone. In order to facilitate regional cooperation on maritime security, U.S. Africa Command and the Africa Center for Strategic Studies coordinated a Maritime Safety and Security Conference last month that brought together over 250 members of over 20 countries that are members of ECOWAS and ECCAS. This conference was a continuation of earlier efforts to increase regional cooperation, and allowed ECOWAS and ECCAS to respond to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2018 (2011) and United Nations Security Council Resolution 2039 (2012), which encouraged regional organizations to develop cooperation mechanisms to combat piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. The conference ended with the signing of a communiqué to recommend that ECCAS, ECOWAS and their member states continue to develop a Memorandum of Understanding and Operational Agreement and submit it to their respective Regional Economic Community Secretariats for eventual adoption by their member states.
Clearly, regional states are recognizing the importance of a regional maritime security framework that would focus on coordinating each country’s maritime security operations and facilitate information-sharing on ongoing pirate attacks. And although these countries will have to overcome the aforementioned challenges to regional cooperation, we will continue to see examples of increased cooperation due to the increasing scope and scale of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
For additional information on maritime strategy at the level of the African Union (AU), check out this part of their webpage. Also, for a discussion of some of the efforts that have taken place within the AU and subregional organizations to address maritime threats, consult Toward an African Maritime Economy: Empowering the African Union to Revolutionize the African Maritime Sector.