From James Ojo, Abuja
The Nigerian military has said that, towards the end of last year, the Boko Haram terror group introduced new tactics involving highly experienced and skilled fighters and technology from ISIS elements apparently dislodged from Syria and relocated to the North East of the country.
This was disclosed by the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, who declared that helicopter gunships and other fighter jets recently acquired had been deployed to neutralise the insurgents in the North East as a result of fresh onslaught on soft targets.
“Our gallant fighter and helicopter gunship pilots are adapting creditably to these emerging nuances and making good progress, despite recent setbacks,” he declared as he rolled out the achievements of the service in the last one year.
According to him, there were remarkable improvements in the security situation as regards the war against Boko Haram since 2015 when he assumed leadership of the air force. He noted that, with the combined efforts of the armed forces, supported by other security agencies, territories controlled by the sect were liberated, while many erstwhile displaced persons were able to return to their ancestral homes.
He said: “In 2018, the NAF conducted several air raids in support of the Operation Lafiya Dole, which include Operation Ruwan Wuta III to IV, Operation Thunderstrike I and II as well as Operation Green Sweep.”
In the fight against banditry in the North West, Air Marshal Abubakar stated that the NAF deployed personnel along with air assets as part of the DHQ Operation Sharan Daji and also conducted dedicated air strikes against identified bandit locations, under the auspices of Operation Diran Mikiya.
He also said that the NAF deployed some Special Forces elements that are fighting side-by-side other services and security agencies in the various theatres of operation by regular provision of close air support, air interdiction, in-theatre liaison flights, medical evacuation and casualty evacuation as well as logistics re-supply of ammunition, water, food and medicine.
On the acquisition and reactivation of aircraft, he disclosed that a total of 16 new aircraft were purchased, while 13 previously grounded aircraft were reactivated, with the reactivation of another two presently in progress.
“The NAF is also conducting periodic depot maintenance (PDM) for three Alpha jet aircraft and life extension programme for three L-39ZA aircraft in Kainji and Kano, respectively. Platforms inducted into the NAF during the 2018 calendar year include additional Super Mushshak aircraft acquired from Pakistan, additional new Mi-35M helicopter gunships delivered to Nigeria from the Russian Federation, Bell 412 helicopters, Tasaigunmi UAV and one Alpha jet ferried in from the USA.
“In addition to these, the Federal Government has also released funds for the purchase of 12 Super Tucano aircraft from the government of the United States of America, while another five attack/utility helicopters have been ordered from Italy,” he said.
Abubakar further disclosed that two new field commands as well as several new units, including some quick response groups and wings (QRGs/QRWs), were created to bring security closer to the people of Nigeria.
These were the Special Operations Command, located in Bauchi, and the Ground Training Command, located in Enugu, while the QRGs/QRWs and regiment groups, manned by NAF Special Forces personnel, were located in Gembu, Taraba State, Ipetu Ijesha, Osun State, Owerri, Imo State, and Agatu, Benue State. Other locations where the NAF established new units include Kerang, Plateau State, Kastina, Katsina State, Gombe, Gombe State, Gusau, Zamfara State, and Doma in Nassarawa State.
To man the new structure, he said the NAF has embarked on the training of 7,244 airmen/airwomen and 400 young graduates as officers, and winged 92 pilots in the last three years alone while 45 other student pilots are undergoing training within and outside the country.
“Worthy of particular mention is the female officer undergoing training in the United States of America to become the first female fighter pilot in the history of the NAF. Similarly, for the first time in the history of the NAF, another female pilot is currently undergoing training in South Africa to become the first NAF female helicopter pilot,” Abubakar said.