The contribution of the Nigerian Air Force to the prosecution of the campaign against Boko Haram insurgents may remain insignificant unless the Federal Government provides it with the right equipment, investigation by The PUNCH has revealed.
It was gathered from military sources on Tuesday that the Air Force, which should have added fillip to the ongoing military operations in the North-East, had not done much because of the type equipment at its disposal.
They said that the service largely uses Alpha jets which, according to them, are
ineffective in the type of war currently going on in the zone.
One of the sources, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, explained that an Alpha jet flies very high and is therefore not very effective in carrying out aerial surveillance.
He added that many fighter pilots had complained that they could not see ‘targets’ during operations because of the fact that Alpha jets also fly very fast.
The source said that what the Air Force needed to contribute effectively to the asymmetric war against the terrorists were helicopter gunships.
He said, “The Alpha jet flies very high and is definitely not suitable for this type of operation.
“Several times, because of the peculiar nature of Alpha jets, the pilots have complained that they cannot see targeted points.
“The Alpha jets definitely are not made for this type of operation that requires aerial surveillance and close monitoring of objects on the ground from the sky.
“For now, there are no gunships for the operation; you need to see the ability of these gunships when they are in action, I mean, when the shells come from them, you would think they are from nowhere.”
According to the source, if the Nigerian military can get 50 gunships, the battle against Boko Haram will be over in one month.
The PUNCH also learnt that there were disastrous incidents in the past where troops had advanced, only for air support to be called off. Such happened at the Sambisa Forest last year.
Our sources claimed that the Air Force could not give the needed backing to the ground troops because the right equipment was lacking.
Last year, the insurgents attacked the Air Force Base in Maiduguri, and destroyed two specially built gunships that were used in monitoring their activities along the Maiduguri-Damaturu Road.
The two helicopters, with transparent floor, were specially built and equipped with modern day facilities that make it possible for objects to be zoomed and sighted from incredible heights.
It was learnt that the activities of the insurgents increased after the destruction of the two gunships last year.
When contacted, the Director of Air Force Information, Commodore Yusuf Anas, denied that only Alpha jets were largely being used by NAF in the prosecution of the war against insurgents.
He said that the service was using all available platforms to ensure a speedy resolution of the security problem in the North-East.
Anas challenged those making such claims to take out time to visit the operational areas rather than judging the security agencies from Abuja and Lagos.
He said, “You don’t sit in Abuja and Lagos and write a story. It is not always good to make judgment sitting here in Abuja or Lagos; it is always good to visit the operational areas to see for yourself what the security agents are doing for this country.
“The NAF is using all the available platforms to contain the insurgency in the North-East. It is not only Alpha jets that are being used. We are also using the Agusta, the ATR 42, Beachcraft aircraft and a maritime surveillance aircraft that captures real images of where the insurgents are going, both in day and night time.
“So it is not true. The Air Force is using an array of platforms to achieve the objectives and in doing that, the Air Force is synergising with the other security agencies in the North -East to quickly bring about the insurgency to a quick end.”
There had been mounting security concerns over the repeated attacks and killings of helpless villagers in the North –East by insurgents.
Many also express worry that the expected synergy between the Army and the Air Force in the present operation is missing as the Army has been left largely to carry out the operations.
Apart from that, a good number of the Armoured Personnel Carriers acquired by the Army under the Shehu Shagari administration are obsolete and, at times, break down in action.
It was gathered that the statutory responsibility of the Air Force of any nation’s Armed forces which is to ‘soften the ground’ for ground forces, had been less than adequate in the recent operations against the sect.
The lack of modern equipment and synergy among the forces had resulted in the killing of troops by the insurgents in some instances.
Nigerian soldiers are said to be using AK 47 assault rifles while the insurgents wield deadly long range assault weapons like RPG, Browning Machine Guns and AA-12 Combat rifles.
It will be recalled that the Borno State Governor, Kasim Shettima, had after a meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja two weeks ago, said that the sect was better armed than the armed forces.
Shettima had said, “Boko Haram members are better armed and are better motivated than our own troops.
‘Given the present state of affairs, it is absolutely impossible for us to defeat Boko Haram.”
But Jonathan had berated the governor, saying his statement was unfortunate.
The President had said, “The statement by the governor is a bit unfortunate. I don’t expect a governor to make this kind of statement and if the governor of Borno State felt that the Nigerian armed forces are not useful, he should tell Nigerians, if I will pull them out for one month whether he will stay in that his Government House.”