Major General Leo Irabor, Commander of the Multinational Joint Task Force
Let us talk about the fight against Boko Haram. What is the situation on the ground?
The security situation is improving as the Boko Haram terrorists have been severely degraded and diminished. We have taken out so many of their strongholds and the areas we are concentrating on now are the various allies of the force. This is the reason why we are conducting the current operation, codenamed Operation AMNI FAKAT. That does not imply that we don’t have enemy attacks. But the situation is not as it was before. Our operations have diminished the capacity of the terrorists. They are no longer bold enough to attack troops. They now rely on suicide bombings and improvised explosives devices.
What has the Joint Multinational Task Force achieved so far?
A lot has been achieved. Before now, Boko Haram had occupied so many villages which they considered as their stronghold. That is no longer the case, especially in Nigeria where most of their activities were taking place. We equally had them on the Mandara Mountains in Cameroon. All those places that were occupied by Boko Haram have been liberated. These include farms and villages. We have reduced their reinforcement capacity and their ability to resupply their logistics. We have captured a good number of their fighters and a good number of them have also been killed. We equally captured many of their equipments including vehicles, arms and ammunitions of various calibers. We destroyed workshops where they manufacture explosive devices and items they use to unleash terror on people. These are gains that we have made that have pushed them back such that a number of them are surrendering to the Joint forces as well as national forces.
What is your assessment of the military cooperation between countries in the Force?
The cooperation is good and I think I must commend our political leaders for taking the initiative to re-operationalise the Multinational Joint Task Force. Basically there are four countries that border the Lake Chad basin; Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. In each of the countries we have a sector. Sector one has its headquarters in Mora, Cameroon, Sector two in Chad, sector three in Nigeria and sector four in Niger. Apart from these four, we equally have the Benin Republic which contributes. Besides the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF), we have national forces that we cooperate with in ensuring that when Boko Haram fighters leave the immediate areas of the MJTF and run into other areas, the national forces will hunt them. We equally have joint operations and national operations. For instance we had the Operation Emergence IV and Operation Alpha in Cameroon operating jointly with us at the MJTF. In addition to the two operations is Operation LAFIYA DOLE in Nigeria. There are also joint operations in Niger and Chad. It is thanks to this excellent cooperation that we have recorded positive results so far. The military cooperation is commendable and I will encourage them to sustain that synergy of effort and synergy of understanding so that we will not have this sort of menace coming to our sub region.
What about cooperation between Cameroon and Nigeria?
The military cooperation between Cameroon and Nigeria in the MJTF is excellent. I have just told you I am the First Commander of the MJTF that constitute four countries. But in addition we have bilateral cooperation between Cameroon and Nigeria outside of the MJTF. That is why there is a close relation between Operation Emergence in Cameroon and Operation LAFIYA DOLE in Nigeria operating jointly. That is also why you find forces of sector one of the MJTF in Cameroon operating alongside Operation LAFIYA DOLE in Nigeria to the extent that they have sent forces into the heart of Sambisa in Nigeria. This is not part of the operation of the MJTF. The bilateral cooperation permits them to pursue the terrorists wherever they may go. That arrangement has been rewarded with a lot of gains. It is a rich cooperation which must be sustained and must be applauded at all levels.
How does the Force operate on the field?
Operations are smooth though there may be a few challenges. You find challenges in every human engagement, but on a general note it has been very good. The performance of the troops showed the professional disposition of all the troops. In fact, it is by reason of their professional standing that we have been able to achieve the results we have achieved. You see the presence of the troops right at the frontlines in fields of very difficult operational environment, the troops stand to fight and do the work they have been tasked to do.
For me as the First Commander, my assessment of all the troops is that they are very professional and highly commended.
Tell us about logistics and equipment. Does the force have what it takes to accomplish its mission?
There is no human establishment that has what is required to do their job. But on a general note, I think we have what it takes to bring the terrorism and insurgency to an end. There are areas we need to improve upon. But by and large, that is what countries are working on; to improve the equipment division of all the forces. On a general note, what we have has helped us. Talking about logistics, we are now going through the highlands. We need additional resources to assure that the channels of the highlands are not only patrolled but are communicated at all times. What we have, as good as it is, can still be improved upon. We equally need the right platforms needed for traverse in difficult terrain on the land area. We are working with what we have but they can be improved upon. Like I said, there is no armed force anywhere in the world that has everything it needs for a given war or a given operation. If you look at the average of what is available vis a vis what the enemy has, you would see that the multinational task force has a huge advantage against the adversary. That is likely what has given the leverage upon which we made the successes we have made thus far.
What sources of funding does the force have?
Our funding comes from the troops-contributing countries. All our operations have been funded by the governments of the said countries. By virtue of the Memorandum of Understanding, each of the countries is responsible for the logistics of maintaining the troops. But we equally have a fund which constitutes resources that are pooled together when there is an operation. Our funds generally come from Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.
We also have support from the African Union and all its partners. The support come in form of logistics; not a direct funding to the MJTF but funding that will enable the AU to procure some items of logistics. We equally have some of the partners that have helped us implement some quick impact projects and resolve issues such as winning the hearts and minds of people in the localities we work in. There are partners that help us with some level of intelligence which is very useful to us in the cause of operations. But basically the costs are borne by contributing countries.
What are your predictions for the near future?
I foresee a near-closure of any form of threat in the months ahead. As we sustain the operation we are conducting now.As we remain committed on all fronts within the sector and across the sectors of the MJTF as well as relations we have with national forces threat will keep reducing. We must not forget that there are other stakeholders beyond the military that must take active part. An asymmetric war of this nature requires an approach that will be able to drive home the entire process and bring the threats to a conclusive end. The various police structures should become more active, other government structures should bring development in some areas; the absence of which is what led to the problem in the first place. There were ungoverned places and I think that challenge should be taken out. If we improve on our governance structure in these areas, we, at the MJTF will be able to sustain our position of protecting lives and properties. Governance must improve dramatically so that people in these areas will feel like they have somewhere to look up to economically; we will not have threats on life and properties over a long period if this is done. This is what I see happening in the coming months. Every one of us should be involved. The media should focus on the key issues. The narrative for public discourse should be centered on meaning issues and approaches that will lead to peace. They should ask the right questions. When talking about accountability, the narrative should be intended to solve a problem and not to create one. So for me it is an all stakeholder engagement that will enable us to see a total end to the madness in our sub-region.