Nigeria’s elite combat units are coming out of the shadows and taking the fight to the country’s enemies. In the past few months, there has been a noticeable rise in their combat activities across the country.
Special operations are usually clad in secrecy, for operational security (Opsec) reasons, and most battlefield activities do not find their way into the public domain.
It is that cloak of mystery, which makes them effective, and no country discloses information about its Special Forces, Nigeria inclusive.
Nigeria continues to struggle with insecurity, claiming the lives of tens of thousands and displacing millions due to armed banditry, kidnapping, Boko Haram, and the Islamic State.
The West African country operates a multi-tiered special operations forces; with the Navy’s Special Boat Service (NNSBS) in Tier 1, the Army’s 72 Special Forces Battalion, and Air Force’ QRF “Panthers” in Tier 2 respectively, and by comparison, the Armed Forces Special Forces (AFSF) are the Tier 3 operators.
The AFSF is the most visible and versatile, they compose of a mix of all the military services including the Army, Air Force, Navy. Formed in 2014, they have been silently but effectively providing support to troops in the theatre of war in the North-East, and elsewhere. The unit’s troops were trained in Nigerian Special Forces Training Institutions and also underwent CT/COIN training in Russia, Belarus, and Pakistan.
The AFSF commandos are always leading the way, and they participated in the recapture of Bama, Baga, Damboa, Marte, Kangarwa and more.
On the other hand, the NNSBS, forged from and trained by the British SBS -is the most elite and secretive of the special forces group. Their activities are majorly centred around the maritime domain; securing vessels from pirate attacks. However, the SBS is sometimes deployed in the arid desert of the North to support the regular troops in the counter-terrorism and anti-banditry efforts.
On December 31, the NNSBS from the Nigerian Navy Base, Onitsha, stormed Ochan forest, known as the Anambra State base of kidnappers, and arrested five suspected kidnappers.
The daring raid left over 10 persons died while others escaped with bullet wounds, the suspected kidnappers masterminded of the abduction of the traditional ruler of Ogwaniocha community in Anambra State, Igwe Oliver Nnaji, who was kidnapped on November 15, 2021.
The NNSBS Squad leader, Suleiman Agabi, told the media that the command based on intelligence gathering, stormed the kidnappers’ hideout around 1:20 am on Friday.
The raid in Anambra is far different from their typical mission which includes naval intelligence, Counter Terrorism and Counter Insurgency (CTCOIN), enforcing maritime security, anti-piracy, littoral operation and facilities/VIP protection.
In a similar fashion, on January 12, special force operatives of the Nigerian Air Force rescued 26 kidnapped travellers along Birnin Gwari-Kaduna Road after trailing the kidnappers.
The abductors on sighting the special forces personnel fled into the bushes with some of the victims, says the Director, NAF Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet.
In another incident, the Nigerian Army Special Forces in collaboration with the Nigerian Air Force and the regular infantry troops on Sunday, on December 27, 2021 defended the School of Special Forces in Yobe from ISWAP attack.
The sect members stormed the town at about 5 pm, targeting the school and community, using cows as cover to avoid detection, but troops opened fire after sighting them.
These recent operations highlights the growing reliance on special forces in solving internal security issues. The special forces’ reputation for quick results is being favoured by the military hierarchy.
Even with these gains, Nigeria should consider establishing a Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) to improve execution of ongoing military operations against violent extremism while enabling better-coordinated strategic planning.
A JSOC would unify the chain of command, by bringing together the expertise of elite SOFs across the various arms of Nigeria’s military—including the army, air force, and navy— and would encourage data-sharing.