In what the Nigerian officials have described as a “regrettable operational mistake,” fighter jets on Tuesday bombed the camp as part of an operation against Boko Haram in Rann in the northeastern Borno state.
Mistakenly believing that a gathering of Boko Haram terrorists was in Borno, Nigerian Maj. Gen. Lucky Irabor says his forces “got the coordinates and I directed that the air (force) should go and address the problem.”
As we now know, the jets hit innocent civilians who had been fleeing Boko Haram attacks, killing at least 70 — including some members of Red Cross staff — and injuring many more.
Much of the criticism and pessimism is fair — there certainly have been a number of catastrophic military decisions if Nigeria’s seven-year fight with Boko Haram is taken as a whole. But President Muhammadu Buhari was elected in May 2015 on the promise of taking the fight to Boko Haram. As odd it may seem, the tragic error in Rann suggests that this may be happening.
This action has allowed aid groups such as the Red Cross — which tragically lost some of its staff in this week’s attack — to access these places for the first time.
They were once off-limits to all but military personnel — and these deaths are a grim reminder that the fight is far from over: As these areas open up to aid organizations, the sheer scale and scope of the humanitarian disaster is becoming apparent for the first time.
But the notion that the Nigerian military does not know what it is doing does not stand up to impartial scrutiny, and those quick to blame it ignore the massive changes that this fight has recently seen.
As the scale of the tragedy in Rann became clear, Elhadj As Sy, secretary general of the International Federation of the Red Cross, told me from Geneva, Switzerland: “These armies, wherever they may be, will track their enemy and occasionally they will make mistakes and strike the wrong people.”
Buhari has moved his military command from Abuja to the epicenter of the Boko Haram world in Maiduguri, capital of Borno. The move has isolated Boko Haram from the population it had frightened for so long, pushing the militants deeper into impenetrable forests and away from the northeast.
In June, his air force bought three Alpha Jets and three M1F7 fighter jets to flash out Boko Haram from the Sambisa Forest, on the edge of the Cameroon, Chad and Niger borders. These countries have now also been dragged into the fight against the terror group.
It will get messy, this war, but the fight back has well and truly begun.
19 January 2017 | 4:02 pm
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