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Why we’ve not bombed entire Sambisa Forest – Chief of Air Staff

Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Hassan Abubakar, has explained why the Nigerian Air Force has not expelled Boko Haram and bandits from Sambisa Forest and other forests in the country.

In a recent interview to mark the 60th anniversary of the Nigerian Air Force, Abubakar said the fear of killing innocent Nigerians has hindered the operations of the service in the fight against insurgency.

Abubakar said: “The fight against insurgency and banditry is a completely different kind of warfare. It’s a type of warfare where your adversaries are Nigerians, embedded within the population. It’s not like conventional warfare where you can simply load your airplanes with bombs and drop them, knowing whoever is there is an adversary.

“Here, the adversary is within the population, and the same media has reported several times in the past that we have mistakenly dropped bombs resulting in civilian casualties. We are very careful to avoid such incidents because we do not want even one innocent Nigerian to be killed in the fight against bandits and terrorists. This makes the operation complicated, unlike normal conventional operations.

“The operations we conduct now are largely intelligence-driven, involving extensive intelligence gathering and follow-up. Ideally, we should only be conducting precision strikes to avoid collateral damage, but that is not always possible.

“To address this, numerous measures are put in place, such as targeting circuits, intelligence circuits, high-end surveillance, and extensive data collection and analysis before hitting a target. This ensures that innocent people don’t suffer, making the process difficult, but necessary to appreciate.

“For instance, we could bomb the whole of Sambisa Forest in one day and ensure nobody leaves, but it’s not feasible due to the challenges mentioned. Similarly, in all other areas of operation, there are often too many innocent people embedded, sometimes not out of their free will but because they are forced to stay. Understanding these complexities is crucial. It is a deliberate process that takes time, but eventually, we will overcome these challenges.”

Speaking on the use of Super Tucano aircraft, Abubakar said Super Tucano is a very good and successful aeroplane that performs well in the roles it’s deployed for based on its perceived limitations and advantages.

“One limitation is the response time. By the time you get information about the adversary’s location and scramble a Super Tucano, an Alpha Jet could reach the location in about one-fourth the time. There is also the issue of noise.

“The Super Tucano is a turboprop aeroplane, and turboprop aeroplanes are usually very noisy. The very smart adversary can hear the aeroplane from afar and disappear before you arrive. Additionally, you cannot use conventional weapons like the 100 kg bomb it carries due to the risk of civilian casualties.

“We are left using dangerously expensive precision weapons. These missiles can cost as much as $200,000 each, so the target must be worth it before expending such weapons. These are just some limitations. It’s not that the aeroplane is ineffective; we are using it effectively in the roles suited for it. However, the kind of operations we currently conduct, has some limitations.

Despite these challenges, the Super Tucano is a very good and successful aeroplane. It performs well in the roles we deploy it for, based on its perceived limitations and advantages. Like every other asset, it is optimised for certain operations while others are optimised for different operations.

“As they say, all design is a compromise. It’s not a completely bad story; it’s still a formidable asset with its limitations, particularly in the type of operations we are conducting currently,” he said. 

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Written by Jude Diugwu

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