The recent warning to Nigeria by the Africa Command of the United States of America’s Military that the extremist terrorist organization, al-Qaeda, is taking over West Africa and that the terror group already has presence in northwest Nigeria, filled most Nigerians with apprehension. Even more disconcerting is the assertion that al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) plan to spread southwards to littoral areas.
The Commander of the US Special Operations Command, Africa (AFRICOM), Major General Davin Anderson made these revelations during a virtual media briefing with journalists last week. To discerning Nigerians, it is not just the content of that virtual media briefing that is worrisome. The decision to go public with such sensitive military intelligence in Nigeria where the people are already tensed up by the activities of terrorists raises questions about the motive behind the revelation.
General Anderson claimed that “The United States has engaged with Nigeria and continues to engage with them in Intel sharing and in understanding what these violent extremists are doing. That has been absolutely critical to their engagements in Borno State and into an emerging area of North-west Nigeria that we’re seeing al-Qaida starting to make some inroads“.
It is a welcome development that the United States is sharing intelligence with Nigeria. What is missing, however, as demonstrated by the virtual press briefing, is intelligence management. This entails that such classified information can be made available to only those that need to be in the know and are in a position to act on the intelligence that has been acquired.
The United States should not have gone public with the intelligence she claimed to have shared with Nigeria and other West African countries. By sharing the so called “intelligence” at a media briefing, it has lost relevance and can no longer be referred to by that name as it is now readily available to everyone, including the terrorists.
The virtual media briefing rather succeeded in doing what the terrorists would find difficult or impossible to do, which is terrorizing the entire West Africa region with the prospect of al-Qaeda and ISIS dominating even the coastal parts of the region. That disclosure stopped short of romanticizing the terrorists, which created confusion as to what side the Command is: Nigeria as a sovereign nation and ally of the United States or the terrorists.
In relating with its European partners, the United States will not disclose in the media what it knows about terrorists’ threats to countries in that region. It would rather engage them one on one as it claimed it has been doing with Nigeria. Even in instances where ISIS terrorists hid among Middle Eastern migrants to enter Europe, the United States did not, for once, go public with the intelligence it had shared with those countries. Treating West Africa differently from the way it treats Europe is racist and smacks of motives that can only be sinister.
The intentions of the United States and, by extension, other western nations is something that Nigeria and the entire West Africa should look out for. This newspaper recalls the prediction by a US security agency that the country will disintegrate in 2015. That did not happen. The country may have security challenges which are not peculiar to her but she has sturdy in-built mechanisms that always come in handy in such moments of difficulty.
Another aspect of the revelation for anyone interested in the peace and security of the region is the matter of fact “watch them (terrorists) continue to move throughout the region”. This is no exaggeration because the US has the benefit of its many satellites pointed at the region; it also flies multiple reconnaissance missions over the region using drones from operational bases in Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Niger.
The same bases can be used to launch attack drones that can make the terrorists history. Of course, there are legal, diplomatic and other issues that must be hammered out before such military strikes against the terrorists can be possible.
Standing by and watch terrorists West Africa did not create spread through the region is sadly reminiscent of how the United States watched from its satellite feeds in September 2017 as a convoy comprising dozens of ISIS pickup trucks crossed from Iraq into Syria. The resulting instability shook not just the Middle East, where it happened. Europe is still so badly hurt by that decision of the United States to feign the role of a non-participatory observer.
The United States may try to explain away its detached disposition that allows them to comfortably watch as the terrorists fan out across West Africa as Anderson did when he suggested that Nigeria and other nations grappling terrorists must provide leadership in the counter-terrorism war in order to attract meaningful partnership with the US and other Western nations. This position is dismissive of the fierce operations that the Nigerian military is carrying out against Boko Haram terrorists in the North East and the bandits in the North West. These are efforts that ought to show leadership in defeating terrorism in the region and which should be supported unless the US has other objectives.
In our considered opinion, instead of resorting to media hype, which will not lead to the defeat of terrorism, be it the version inflicted by ISIS or the deaths dispensed by al-Qaeda or the barbarity of Boko Haram, the United States should learn from its engagements in the Middle East where the approach of standing by to watch cost its allies dearly. It must particularly note that this is no era for any nation to feel smug in the unreliable belief in its invincibility. The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark warning of what terrorists are capable of if allowed to thrive in any part of the world; combined with technology like the drones that terrorists now reportedly have access to, a biological terror attack on the United States is a possibility.
In our view, now is the time for every country, including the United States, to be more realistic in supporting West Africa, especially Nigeria, in defeating this scourge.
Our stand is that the United States must henceforth be more realistic with what it does with whatever intelligence it acquires on terrorist activities in Nigeria. It will be more productive if such vital information is shared exclusively with their Nigerian partners with whom they can jointly review and take the necessary action on the intelligence since terrorism does not respect the political boundaries that the world currently operates in. Rushing to discuss, publicly, intelligence that has been shared with partners is out of place and must be made a no-go area in the future. Intelligence should be limited to military and diplomatic circles. Only those who should know must know.
Having said that, we also suggest that the Nigerian government and military must continue to demonstrate that they value and respect the lives of the citizens by continuing to live up to expectations so as to sustain the leadership role the country is playing in the region. Nigeria must demonstrate that the United States can continue to trust her to act correctly on intelligence shared with it on the activities of terrorists. The country should actually pressure the United States to commit some more toward the efforts to defeat the terrorists.
This is the chance to ask that country to reassess its activities in other parts of the world that directly or indirectly affect Nigeria. The instability in Libya, Iraq and Syria are in parts what is manifesting as ISIS/al-Qaeda spread in the West African Region. What the United States should do is the equivalent of turning off the tap in a room that is being flooded so the problem of terrorism should be shut off at source.
We urge all stakeholders in the efforts to defeat terrorism to keep up their own end of the responsibility, which includes having the right attitude and approach to intelligence reports.