Counter-insurgency in Nigeria still seems miles away from known inter-national best practices and is certainly out of tune with current realities, as revealed in yet another botched attempt by the nation’s security operatives to rescue foreign hostages from their Nigerian abductors. A German national working with a construction company in Kano, Edgar Fritz Raupach, kidnapped four months ago by a band of kidnappers, was killed in the crossfire when men of the Joint Task Force (JTF) stormed his place of illegal incarceration. The JTF, a rapid response security force made up of military and police and sometimes para-military personnel, is designed to combat high-tension anti-state crimes. Five other persons were killed along with Mr. Raupach during the heavy gun battle with the insurgents, and among the seriously wounded were also five soldiers.
This failed rescue attempt brings to two, in recent months, such special operations by the Nigerian military, which is regarded as Africa’s largest and among the best. The first rescue mission was in March this year, when officers and men of the JTF, deployed to tackle insurgency and terrorism in North-Western Nigeria engaged abductors of a Briton and an Italian in a gun battle to secure their release. Chris McManus, from England, and his colleague, Franco Lamolinara, were working for an Italian construction firm, B. Stabilini, in Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State, when they were kidnapped by suspected members of the Boko Haram sect.
That mission ended in a fiasco, as the hostages lost their lives in the crossfire, thus defeating the essence of the operation. There were reports that the soldiers ap-plied maximum force and minimum tact in the rescue operation, resulting in an uncontrollable melee that cost the victims’ lives. Another version alleged that the abductors, on getting wind of the advancing rescue force, killed their hostages.
The British authorities, who reportedly authorized the joint rescue mission, claimed after the post-mortem on their slain national that their own troops who were part of the mission said their overzealous Nigerian counterparts threw caution and wise counsel to the winds by attempt-ing to smash the abductors with brute force, when more tact and patience were desirable.
The recent failed Kano operation therefore seems to expose serious defects in the Nigerian military and police readiness to combat and contain an increasingly complex criminal scenario in the nation. We think that the embarrassment of the two bungled missions could have been avoided if the right things had been done. Some security experts have observed that the security operatives who misfired in the two cases were negligent or lacked awareness of subtler but more effective ways of tracking down and ultimately smashing criminal gangs such as abductors and insurgents. Fighting insurgency, they say, requires much planning, logistics, intelligence gathering and tracking, and these require patience. In other words, strategy is usually more appropriate than brute force. Counter-insurgency to rescue abductees requires minimum engagement of gunfire to achieve its objective: rescue.
Nigerian security operatives will therefore benefit from more intelligence training as a basic and urgent requirement to fight the growing menace of insurgency and other violent crimes. Criminals such as kidnappers, rapists and terrorists are often psychologically disoriented per-sons that can be better contained only by superior psychological and emotional poise. Appropriate training of our security operatives is essential in this regard.
Furthermore, the Nigerian authorities should fine-tune the distinction between crimes requiring maximum use of force and those that do not. The police, working with the State Security Service (SSS), should fight crimes like banditry, kidnapping, ritual killings, smuggling, ethnic clashes, among others. However, it is the duty of the Army, Air Force and Navy to jointly confront terrorist acts and ward off any form of external aggression against the country. Even at that, much more intelligence capacity needs to be acquired.