Soldiers who are shy of death
It is becoming increasingly clearer why the country’s terror war remains practically theoretical, thanks to the recent remarks by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Kenneth Minimah.
The place and timing of Minimah’s revealing comments were noteworthy. By a significant coincidence, the army boss underlined the military’s cluelessness, particularly in the campaign against the Islamist guerilla force Boko Haram.
On July 23, the day that twin bombings allegedly masterminded by Boko Haram reportedly killed 82 people in Kaduna and nearly claimed the life of a former military head of state, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, Minimah made statements that expressed helplessness. He told soldiers at the 9 Brigade, Ikeja Cantonment, Lagos, during a familiarisation tour: “Boko Haram terrorists come to die not fight. It is a new warfare, which military personnel are not trained in. They carry explosives to blow up anyone around. They load Hilux with bombs and run into troops with them. It is not a conventional war. You do not see or know the enemy you are fighting.”
It must be said that this definition of the battle as unconventional is unacceptably repetitive, especially coming from the army chief. Indeed, his argument raised fundamental questions about the nature and quality of military training in the country. It sounded incredible that in the modern world, with the familiarity of guerilla fighting, Minimah referred to the observable fact as “a new warfare, which military personnel are not trained in.”
Even more unbelievable was his suggestion that the country’s soldiers are restrained by the possibility of dying in battle. It would appear that he was trying to redefine the generally acknowledged riskiness of war and downplay the reality that dying is always a possible occurrence in warfare. If, as he claimed, the terrorists “come to die not fight,” then it may be logical to reason that by rejecting the same mentality, their opponents could be fighting a losing battle.
Furthermore, against this background, it is astonishing that the President Goodluck Jonathan administration continues to explore the so-called international support in fighting Boko Haram as part of the broader global war on terror. Considering Minimah’s hint that his soldiers would prefer warfare without the risk of death, it must be the height of wishful thinking to imagine that foreign soldiers would be willing to die for the country when local soldiers are busy making excuses.
This brings up the controversial issue of the $1billion external loan for which the Jonathan administration is seeking the approval of the National Assembly. When the president presented his request to the federal lawmakers two weeks ago, he argued for an urgent endorsement, saying the money was needed to upgrade the equipment, training and logistics of the Armed Forces and security services in order to empower them better to achieve victory against the insurgents.
The storm generated by this loan idea is unsurprising and understandable, particularly the criticism that a colossal total of N3trillion had been allocated to defence in the national budget in the last three years “with nothing to show for it.” The question is: whether with N3trillion or $1billion, how can the military succeed in arresting terrorism with soldiers who are shy of death? Mind you, Hardball is certainly not a sadistic advocate of violent death; it is just about being frank and realistic.
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