The Noose Tightens Around Maiduguri
In 2014 after Shekau proclaimed the rule of an Islamic State over areas under his control in what is now understood to have been a preparatory move to his pledging allegiance to the so called Islamic State, Khalid Al-Barnawi who had recently at the time gone fully independent, announced at a meeting with his fighters that a plan had been developed to conquer Maiduguri, which was the greatest short term dream they all had. This plan had been called ‘Amaliyatuz-Zalzalah (Operation Earthquake). What he did not mention at that time was that the plan had been developed with Abubakar Shekau and Abu Usaamah Al-Ansari, before the declaration of an Islamic state by Shekau and the subsequent falling out.
Operation Zalzalah as far I was allowed to know called for all factions to mass forces at points on the approaches to Maiduguri, after they had conquered all parts of Borno State that were contiguous to the city, then to storm the city while cutting it of from the outside world during the entire time it would take for them to defeat the Nigerian forces in it. To enable them clear Maiduguri faster, they had planned to activate their loyalist cells within the city to initiate fighting inside, while they knocked in from outside. Operation Zalzalah was not mentioned further as the situation changed radically and immediate priorities were adjusted.
Recently, things began changing on the ground here. First came the death of Abu Usaamah Al-Ansari as announced by Khalid Al-Barnawi to his own Shuraa in October 2015, which I found out in November last year. Then came the patch up between Mamman Nuur and Abubakar Shekau which was brokered by Khalid Al-Barnawi again within mid 2015, and finally the full time patch up between Khalid Al-Barnawi and Abu-Bakr Shekau which was brokered by the scholars on both side, in the interest of defeating the common enemies I.e the armies of disbelief waging war against the Jihad and which finally took off in July 2015, shortly before Shekau became a bit indisposed.
Along with this new era, came the redevelopment of Operation Zalzalah/’Amaliyatuz-Zalzalah, which had lain dormant all this while. I was told that the two evil geniuses as I like to call them in private (Shekau and Khalid) had themselves modified the plan extensively and updated it.
The new plan under the same old name, is more realistic, acknowledging that the insurgency cannot go head to head with the Nigerian Army’s units based in Maiduguri and not lose great amounts of men. The Nigerian Army’s units based in Maiduguri are deemed by the insurgency to be of great number and in a well fortified/tenable position, from which to dislodge them would take too many of their men, an outcome which would impact negatively on their ability to defend their conquest and resist a counter offensive by the armies of disbelief which would not take long in materializing as every disbelieving government in the region would see the conquest of Maiduguri as a great strategic victory for the jihad and a ill-sign for their longevity.
Thus the new plan, called for the insurgency to first force the Chadians out of this war in addition to avoid forcing them to return back in, and then defeat the Cameroonians in Cameroon’s northern territories which to them means forcing Cameroon to return back to the status quo ante (a strategy which I addressed in a yet unpublished piece), thus securing their rear areas, before swinging back the majority of their forces to implement the contents envisioned in the modified Operation Zalzalah, leaving only a small garrison force to maintain their logistics and other presence in Northern Cameroon.
Once the time for Operation Zalzalah to be implemented was deemed to have come, the insurgency would increase the pressure on the Nigerian Army, especially in the rural areas of Yobe and Borno States, which was to have been reduced in order for more forces to be available for the war in Northern Cameroon. Since the Army does not have enough men to garrison effectively each village, it would have to prioritize areas. Areas in which vacuum is created the insurgents would simply move in, and areas in which the Army maintained a presence away from its major concentrations, the insurgency would deploy overwhelming numbers to flush them out gradually, one village after another. Since they can easily mass forces for an attack and disperse afterwards, they figured it won’t be long before the Army would begin to concentrate solely on keeping the towns and LGA headquarters. Then the campaign would move to its next phase: the cutting off of Maiduguri from the outside world, and the long siege which would follow.
Before cutting off Maiduguri, then new Operation Zalzalah calls for the insurgency to empty villages in Borno State of their inhabitants and drive them to the sprawling metropolis, thus choking it full of hungry, desperate people, needing an enormous amount of supplies. The insurgents however realized, that they cannot maintain a classic siege situation around the metropolis where by thousands of men would surround the city, and artillery would be used to bombard it to its knees, as they don’t have enough men and resources to prosecute this. Thus they improvised.
Instead of a classic siege situation, the insurgency would cut off Maiduguri, by making all access routes to the metropolis unsafe and not passable for civilian and most kinds of military traffic, unless accompaigned by heavy enough military support (tanks and other armoured vehicles and hundreds of soldiers) Since the city depends on the outside world for practically 95% of its necessities, it would soon starve and lack basics including medical supplies. They would ambush and assault any logistics trying to reach the city. And they would keep probing the city with attacks that will grow more frequent and intense as the enemy forces within grow weaker. Should the military attempt to relieve the city, they will withdraw just far enough and create an opening just wide enough to give the Nigerian Army relief force access to the city and the illusion of victory, before they will snap the trap back shut again.
Should the defenders in the city attempt to break through, if the forces attempting the breakthrough are minimal, they will crush them, if they are heavy, they will allow them break through then harass them while cutting them off from returning back to the city. They will keep at this, for as long as necessary, until the inhabitants of Maiduguri are starving, and the defenders are weakened, and morale within the city has fallen so much that death is an attractive option to those inside the city. Then they will begin the final push and activate their assets within the city which are described as substantial, to betray the city from within, while they break in from without.
Already evidences abound that the plan is in play. Northern Cameroon is being forced to its knees. The Chadians have left, and the insurgents have stayed away from Chad’s logistics, the very reason which forced Chad above anything else into this war in the first place. Maiduguri is slowly being cut off from the outside world as we speak.
The road from Maiduguri to Damboa is controlled by the insurgents, while to the northwest, the farthest you can go is Magumeri Town, 25-30kms from Maiduguri. Anything beyond that and you are in insurgent territory. Northwards your journey under military escort will terminate in Guzamala which in addition to the LGAs north, east and southeast of it, is mostly controlled by the insurgency. Eastwards, you would be lucky to reach Mafa Town unscathed under heavy military escort. You can attempt driving to Monguno, but there are no guarantees as the area is heavily contested by the insurgency. The access road from Konduga is also heavily contested and would be suicidal to try to use without heavy military escort.
Only road open and free for motorists and the military to use, is Maiduguri-Damaturu Road, which is heavily defended by the Nigerian Army, as it is the access road for the forces in Maiduguri to receive their logistic supplies. And even it is not totally without threat. Should that road go, then Maiduguri will be cut off from the outside world with only the airport as a resupply point, a situation the insurgency also acknowledges and plans to deal with as best as it can, by making it unsafe and gradually impossible for planes to land at that airport.
Unless there is a serious change in how things are currently on the ground, the pertinent question military and civilian planners and the national and state leadership should be asking themselves, is: Is Maiduguri prepared for a long grueling siege?.