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MNJTF: We are taking the battle to the enemy – Force Commander

Since 2009 when the Boko Haram insurgency began, many thought it was just a Nigerian problem stemming from the radicalization of some misguided individuals. But it would soon be a matter of time before jihadist elements infiltrate the region and the entire Sahel. To this end, the Lake Chad Basin countries which include; Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria in addition to Benin, made welcome efforts to coordinate against militants through the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF).

Today, the region has become a lot more stable as more insurgents have continued to surrender and residents return to their communities all due to the efforts of the MNJTF. In this exclusive interview with Montage Africa, the Force Commander, Multinational Joint Task Force, Major General Abdul Khalifa Ibrahim speaks on the journey so far and the task ahead.


What is the mandate of the MNJTF and how is it being realized?

Thank you very much for that question.  But I will start by saying the MNJTF in its present format was operationalized in 2015 after the leaders of the Lake Chad Basin (LCB) areas of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad met with Benin Republic taking part as an observer since it is not in the LCB.  This was in reaction to the activities of the Boko Haram terrorists (BHT) group which was at a crescendo in 2014 and early 2015.  The MNJTF was authorized by the Peace and Security Council of the African Union in early 2015 and was later recognized by the UN.  It started deploying around April 2015 and commenced operations in July of 2015.  In a summarized form, the mandate of the MNJTF includes:  To create a safe and secure environment in the area affected by the activities of Boko Haram and other terrorist groups by defeating the BHTs.  Facilitate the implementation of the overall stabilization program by the LCBC and return of internally displaced persons and refugees.  Facilitate humanitarian operations and delivery of assistance to the affected populations.

How has the journey been so far in your operations since your assumption of command of the MNJTF Headquarters in N’Djamena some months back.

Well, I took over command of the MNJTF in August of last year, so I have been around for about 6 months now.  I knew I had to settle down quickly, therefore after the formalities of taking over, I read myself quickly into the mandate and concept of operation of the MNJTF.  Next, I took a quick tour of all the Sectors in the various troops Contributing Countries of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and here in Chad.  I was well-received everywhere.  I got to understand that everybody in the LCB Countries was tired and fed up with the lingering insurgency with its unbearable cost in human and material terms.  My thoughts and focus ever since have been on how to achieve synergy and jointly end this conflict once and for all.

The MNJTF has been commended lately for some successes in its operations, can you elaborate on them and what are the reasons for the successes?

Yes, we thank God for our recent successes, they are the combination of greater synergy, cooperation, training, and injection of renewed enthusiasm.  All the Sectors have been effectively repelling attacks on their locations.  We are able to track the movement of the terrorists better even across borders and in December 2021, MNJTF carried out a big operation jointly by Nigerian and Nigerien Sectors of the MNJTF.  It was code-named Op SHARAN FAGE.  It enabled us to go deep to the shores of Lake Chad.  Areas such as Asaga, Metele, Kangarwa among other places were cleared.  Nobody lives in those areas and they are not occupied by the criminals.  Well over 30 terrorists were neutralized, training camps and logistics dumps among others were destroyed.  We tested the coordination of our ground to air communications and operational coordination, it was good.  Also due to troop rotation, the troops were relatively new to the operational environment, so this was a baptism of fire and they performed to my satisfaction.  We had a vehicle-borne IED attack where we lost 2 men sadly.  But overall, it was a success and we hope to build on that.

How effective is your collaboration with other troops contributing countries?

Collaboration and cooperation with the TCCs have been very good.  I enjoy a warm and cordial relationship with all of them.  Mind you, I have the Head of Mission, who is secretary of the LCBC for guidance as well as the SOP and CONOPS of the operation.  If there are issues, they are quickly cleared.

What are the challenges of MNJTF?

There is no force without challenges, the MNJTF is no exception.  We try to inform our Mission HQs and the TCCs of our challenges and they try to resolve them.  I will like to have more troops deployed in the operational area and of course an increase in equipment holding of the force.  Then of course injection of even more technology to aid this fight.  Remember we are against a fanatical, cunning and resilient enemy.  He does not respect any laws and is very brutal.

There has been a series of surrenders by fighters of the Boko Haram (Shekau) and Boko Haram ISWAP. What is your take on this?

We welcome the surrenders and urge them all not to be misguided, to drop their arms and surrender.  In fighting amongst the criminals which we welcome and effects of own operations as well as psychological operations via strategic communication by a host of partners have cumulated into these surrenders, within the MNJTF area of operations alone, over 7,000 fighters and family members have surrendered, a few from Cameroon and Niger but the bulk from Nigeria.  After certain protocols, they are brought to the Collection Center in Maiduguri Nigeria and I can tell you about 32,000 have surrendered and more are still coming out.  We welcome all acceptable means to end this war.  We shall however continue with our operations till the insurgents are totally and completely defeated.

The Death of Abubakar Shekau in May 2021 made many people believe that the end of insurgency was near, but it seems the intensity is increasing, what is your take on this?

I absolutely disagree with you, facts and evidence on the ground don’t support your assertion.  The death of the criminal Shekau and the effects of their own operations opened the gateway for the surrenders.  Thousands of refugees from Cameroon have returned to Nigeria.  Go to Banki town in Nigeria to confirm.  Internally in Nigeria, internally displaced persons in their thousands have also returned to Monguno, Cross Kawa, Daron Baga, and Baga among other places.  Civil Authority has been reestablished in Banki, Baga in Nigeria, Kolofata, Amchide in Cameroon, and other places.  Farming and commercial activities picking up in many places within our operational environment.  I however agree a few areas had issues and the terrorists blew it up.  But I assure you, we are not sleeping, we are working on the problem areas.

Finally, Sir, a new year has just begun, what should Nigerians and indeed the people living in the Lake Chad Basin area expect from the MNJTF.

The MNJTF is poised to be even more offensive-minded by carrying the fight to the enemy to defeat him.  We are becoming more coordinated and precise in our operations.  A lot of the criminals have been taken out by a combination of precise intelligence and precision strikes.  This would definitely continue.  We shall also pursue other lines of operations with our other partners.  Thousands more would be resettled back to their ancestral homes in the LCB area and you will be duly informed.  I expect more stability in other operational areas and I urge the people of the Lake Chad Basin areas to continue to cooperate and believe in us.  Thank you very much.

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