• Terror: A day with Nigeria’s
Special Ops unit
Wednesday, 27 June 2012
• Comrades in arms: Civil Defenders partner Army in new terrorism fronts
Nigeria’s armed services have expanded
beyond prosecuting the Civil War and
keeping peace across Africa. Presently, it is dealing with homegrown insurgency and terrorism—and now runs Special Operations unit to deal with the problem.
Special Ops might be the stuff of blockbuster movies, but across hills and
forests in the country, hundreds of men
and women of military and paramilitary
background train in the programme in
hopes of keeping the country safe.
Fagite Valentine completed four weeks
of basic counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency training the Nigerian Army Base Camp in Kachia, and says the rigours could prove the “final stopping
point against crime.” “With this I can assure that Nigerians can sleep with their two eyes closed, because we have been given everything within the itinerary of the Nigerian Army as regards fighting crime and terror,” he boasts.
The birth of a wing designated Special
Ops came more from terror—a recognition that the terrain of modern-
day are not as clear-cut as the jungles
secessionist and federal troops forayed in the 1960s war. The Wing initially had five divisions:
• Jungle Warfare and Combat Survival
• Mountain Warfare, merged with jungle in 1987 to become Special Warfare,
• Amphibious, upgraded to a Wing in 1986 and moved to Calabar, where it is semi-autonomous as a training school
• Desert Warfare.
The early 90s wasn’t a period seriously
associated with terrorism. Even
September 11 attacks wouldn’t come
until a decade later. But the “unforgettable hijack” of a Nigerian
Airways Airbus A300 in 1994 was a wakeup call, according to military
literature. Hijack of the flight from Lagos to Niamey in Niger Republic was blamed on the Movement for Advancement of Democracy. The army’s response was to upgrade Special Ops to a centre, the Nigerian Army Counter Terrorism and Counter Insurgency Centre, on June 10, 2009. It has since become more popular as CTCOIN.
CTCOIN still runs the army’s special warfare wing and counter terrorism wing. Both are becoming increasingly important in how the military deals with battles in terrains where jungle are more concrete than vegetation. Also increasingly important is Nigeria’s
need to throw its paramilitary services
into the programme, including the police and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps. The fourth batch of trainees to graduate from CTCOIN included 60 civil defenders and 154 soldiers.
The absence of the police, to which both
army and paramilitary hand over terror
suspects after capture, came under
questioning. But officials insist it is “a policy issue way beyond” them that Abuja has to decide.
Command and Control
Those in training must master new scapes in urban patrol, hostage rescue and clearing multiple houses. The army is careful about its activities flying all over the place so much journalists using
mobile phones are not allowed to take any images.
The demos, which Daily Trust was allowed to capture, are meant to inspire
confidence in a nation edgy about routine terrorist attacks and whether its security forces can stay the course of countering attacks without going overboard.
In one image sequence, a detachment of soldiers and civil defenders leap off a
roaring jeep and storm an urban building—similar to the sort of areas beset by clashes and bombings in Kaduna, Kano and Maiduguri.
The urban patrol lasts anywhere from minutes to hours but the goal is to stay effective and minimise casualties.
Hostage rescue is a trickier business—
and “losing hostages is normal accident,”says Maj-Gen Amnon Kwaskebe,
Commander, Nigerian Army Corps of
Artillery. “It is not one hundred percent that when you go for rescue ops, you rescue all the people taken hostage.”
This year,alone prominent cases of
abductions and resulting rescue operations which ended in the death of
the hostages. But there is hope that training could push up standards and “their performance in the field will be better than before,” he says.
One area their performance is improving
is in weapons handling, beginning with
attempts to dismantle a rifle in a record 4 seconds, and couple the same weapon in 7 seconds flat—even in blindfold. The hope is that “there will be limited
problems of misfire or misuse of
weapons,” Kwaskebe remarks.
Minutes later, security teams storm a
replica of a multiple-room house,creating a scenario in which terrorists are holed up i a large house or a hotel. The gunshots as soldiers and civil
defenders open fire on “terrorists” over a stretch of green bush are deafening.
The teams manage to shoot down some
terrorists, but not before some go down
in the shooting. In pairs, the troops maintain a “buddy system”—two soldiers or a soldier and a civil defender—when in advance or in retreat. The pairing helps them watch out fo each other, and ensure each mate in a pair has someone to evacuate them if they are shot in crossfire.
Assistant Commandant General Bartholomew Ezeigbo of NSCDC zone B says training targets “capability and impetus.” “You should expect improved services to the society. And as they give us more, we will give more in return,” he adds. Civil defenders, since they were legally allowed to bear arms in duty, have recently taken thousands of rifles in fresh delivery from the army. The ACG says arming civil defenders is ongoing and “as time goes on, the government will see whether we have need to receive more.”
Women like Akinwale Abimbola are
among defenders handling the rifles. She has being taught to handle weapons “in such ways as to protect my fellow women and young ladies coming up,” she says.
But CTCOIN isn’t all about counterterrorism. Some of the soldiers it trained this year are the balance of troops scheduled for deployment to Guinea Bissau, said CTCOIN Director, Brig-Gen Tijani Golau. Their job will be to enforce peace when they deploy, but the civil defenders fanning out across the country will “enforce peace or rescue people who are distressed by terrorists and insurgents.”
And, for your peace of mind, their
training “included recognising improvised explosive devices and how to handle them anywhere discovered,” said Kwaskebe. That should ease your mind, especially with a motto that reads: “No Impossibility.”