EXCLUSIVE: How Nigeria Air Force’s Failings Prolonged the War against Boko Haram

EXCLUSIVE: How Nigeria Air Force’s Failings Prolonged the War against Boko Haram
Chris Steven, Abuja
A recent directive by Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar for Sambisa Forest, where Boko Haram terrorists are holed up, to be cleared drew ire from different quarters of the country and for good reason. Nigerians are disappointed in the Air Force and blame it for the continued existence of the Boko Haram terror group.
Investigations revealed that the anger against the third service of the Armed Forces is not unconnected with its inability to make meaningful contribution to the counter-terrorism war against Boko Haram, which citizens expected would have been the case since the Air Force first failed to locate a convoy of dozens of Hilux Pickups that ferried away school girls that were abducted in Chibok over three years ago. 
The terror group continue to shuttle between Nigeria and neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon often using convoys that are visible from the sky. The practice for the Air Forces of countries with similar security challenge is to carpet bomb such convoys while troops hunt down the terrorists that are usually left in disarray after such operations. 
This method worked in decimating Islamic State terrorists, who become easy targets for Syrian and Iraqi troops in the aftermath of airstrikes from Russian and American aircrafts. Airstrikes launched by the Nigerian Airforce has not yielded such benefits. Claims that it has hit terrorist targets are called into question within short time as they are able to advance until ground troops ambush them. 
Revelations by locals who spoke exclusively to our correspondent is that the service may be wasting pricey ammunitions as some of the airstrikes usually target abandoned and disused structures in Sambisa Forest. One of them who volunteered only his first name, Adamu, for fear of being identified, noted that it is not unusual for aircrafts to repeatedly pound the same location even when there is no sign of life.   
Adamu noted that “We see empty shacks, abandoned places, and the next thing aircrafts will come and drop bomb. We will count, one day, two days, three days and there would be not the faintest trace of the smell of death. Even small animals in the bush will stench up the place it died but this people will drop bomb and nothing will rot. You look up in the skies later and don’t even see the (carrion) birds that follow death. We then tell ourselves that these airplanes do not want the war to end.” 
The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) is however not accepting the damning verdict of citizens. A source at NAF Headquarters, who is a close confidant of Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, revealed that the recent escalation of media presence by the CAS was part of recommended public relations effort to repair the battered image of the service. 
“We are aware of how Nigerians feel about NAF (Nigerian Air Force) but we also think it is important that people are made aware of the peculiar challenges that we face as a military organization,” the source who preferred anonymity because he is not the official spokesperson explained. 
But Air Marshal Abubakar had publicly shrugged off the possibility of the Air Force facing any challenges when he ordered on September 1 that Sambisa Forest should be completely cleared. “We must redouble our efforts to make sure that we cleanse the forest before they even come out to do harm,” he declared.  
His reference to Boko Haram coming out of Sambisa Forest to do harm addressed incidents in the past when terrorists easily overran Air Force Bases in attacks that were blamed on poor leadership. The Chief of Air Staff had in turn passed on the blame. He once told a retreat through a subordinate that “Recent evaluations of the (Air Force) bases revealed that many commanders and bases were yet to imbibe and adopt the tenets of the new base defence concept.” 
But another source in the Armed Forces warned that the decreased capacity of the Air Force under the leadership of Air Marshal Abubakar is mostly responsible for Boko Haram’s ability to continue carrying out attacks. The source queried how it was possible for the Air Force to have resources to “clear Sambisa Forest” when it had not deployed these same resources for aerial surveillance and relay the information gathered from such exercises to ground troop that are in a better position to neutralize the terrorists. 
“If the air support were what it should be the kind of Boko Haram ambush that killed several persons on the UNIMAID, NNPC oil exploration team in July this year would not have been possible. The other terrorists’ ambushes would have rather led to their destruction since aircraft would simply pound them from the air before they have the chance to do any crazy thing. 
“You’ll agree that the counter-terrorism war would have had a better result if the recent talks emanating from NAF had been converted into action the terrorists would have become history by now. Instead, all we hear is talk and more talk. We are not seeing aircrafts delivering the needed advantage from the skies,” the source lamented.