Fulan Nasrullah is a national security policy advisor based in Nigeria. He is a founder of the Conflict Studies And Analysis Project. He sometimes tweets via @fulannasrullah.
Zakari Mijinyawa currently works for the Government of The Federal Republic of Nigeria. He has worked on Strategic Communications, and Counterterrorism Policy , including pioneering and contributing to Nigeria’s National Security Strategy 2014, National Counterterrorism Strategy 2016, and the Policy Framework and National Action Plan for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism. He tweets via @ZMijinyawa.
Opinions expressed in this article by him do not in anyway reflect official Government of The Federal Republic Of Nigeria, thinking or policy.
Conflict Studies And Analysis Project’s content does not contain information of a classified or otherwise official nature, neither does the content represent the position of any governmental nor non-governmental entity.
National Security Situation: The Multinational Joint Task Force[MNJTF] of the Lake Chad Basin Commission[LCBC] states, formed to better coordinate and integrate regional forces into a comprehensive force to degrade and ultimately defeat insurgencies in the Lake Chad region, is failing to make any meaningful impact, three years after being reformed with a new structure and concept of operations.
Date Originally Published: 20 Feberuary, 2018.
Paper/Author(s) Point Of View: This paper is written from the perspective of regional security policy advisors, offering options on the reformation and refocusing of the MNJTF to further degrade destabilising non-state armed groups in the Lake Chad region.
Background: In face of the massive threat posed by the insurgent groups collectively labelled Boko Haram, to regional peace and stability, the countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission organised an extraordinary summit on October 7, 2014, in Niamey, Niger, where they agreed to resurrect and refocus accordingly a regional security force -the MNJTF- to carry out offensive and stabilisation operations, to create a safe and secure environment in the areas affected by Boko Haram and other terrorist groups… facilitate the implementation of overall stabilization programmes by the LCBC Member States and Benin in the affected areas, including the full restoration of state authority and the return of IDPs(internally displaced people) and refugees; and facilitate, within the limit of its capabilities, humanitarian operations and the delivery of assistance to the affected populations.
In addition to having a determined number military force drawn from regional states forces, and exercising command and control over offensive operations in the theatre and facilitating stabilisation programmes including delivery of humanitarian aid that would lead to the restoration of state control over the area, the MNJTF was also tasked with preventing all weapons transfers and logistical supplies to the insurgents, carrying out psychological operations to encourage defections within insurgent ranks, in addition to coordinating intelligence, information influence operations, and strategic communications activities in the theatre.
Over three years down the line, the MNJTF’s troop and budgetary commitments have been largely unfulfilled, command and control remains solely in the hands of the militaries of regional states, operational planning remains the preserve of the regional militaries, and intelligence sharing is negligible. The MNJTF by and large has been remade into a military and intelligence liaison centre, instead of the joint headquarters and multinational security and stabilisation force it was meant to be. This has created a situation where there are significant gaps in cooperation between the Lake Chad countries.
A yet to be fully operationalised MNJTF, fosters a chronic lack of cooperation between regional states, and this plus an absence of joint planning, has resulted in a lack of strategic direction, and exploitable gaps by the insurgent groups, with member countries’ actions determined by their individual national priorities, instead of a goal of collective security and elimination of destabilising non-state armed groups in the region.
Significance: The key to restoring stability in the Lake Chad region, lies in a region-wide effort to degrade destabilising non-state armed groups and close all gaps that can be exploited to perpetuate the lack of stability in the region, on all planes.
A proliferation of command and control structures, an absence of joint strategic planning, a lack of seamless intelligence sharing tailored specifically for the common problem, plus the creation of virtual safe spaces for insurgent groups in Diffa, the Cameroonian side of the Borno/Adamawa(Nigeria)-Far North(Cameroon) border, and the Lake Chad islands -due to the inability of national militaries to by themselves clear out these areas- leaves the insurgents with sufficient manoeuvre space to survive and gradually build up strength.
This ultimately further degrades the security situation for local civilian populations, with more people being forced into refugee camps than already insufficient humanitarian aid can cope with, thus increasing the pressure on fragile government resources. Should the situation deteriorate due to national governments continuing the current trend of diverting troops and resources from the theatre to what they consider more pressing problems, the current strategic stalemate will change and lead to an increase in the capabilities of violent non state actors, especially the Islamic State’s West African Province, which will ultimately pose a threat to European homelands plus western and other interests locally with instructions from the Islamic State.
Option ＃1: As part of a kinetic-focused option, concentrate strategic planning covering all four present national theatres in the MNJTF, subordinating all separate country efforts to one strategic plan, developed and overseen by the regional effort at the MNJTF. Transfer operational control over all direct action special operations forces assigned to the theatre, from national authority to the MNJTF.
Transfer to the MNJTF, direct operational command and control over Northern Borno in Nigeria, the Lake Chad islands, the Mandara Mts/Gwoza Hills, and Cameroon’s Far North Region, along with all military units currently deployed to these areas. Areas outside the above listed, will continue to be under the direct command and control of national militaries, while guided by strategic planning and oversight from the MNJTF.
Sort out budgeting, with Nigeria, the EU, and the P3 powers (US, UK, France) providing the majority of funding for realistic budgets, and other regional states providing the minority share, which must be properly accounted for. MNJTF will take charge of paying the salaries of troops directly under its direct operational control, in addition to directly purchasing weapons, communications devices, and other combat support necessities for its units. P3 countries should also increase the level of their training support, embedding advisors at all levels of MNJTF commanded forces, right down to platoon-level. This will be in addition to providing aggressive air support for MNJTF offensives.
Risks: Resistance to such a reformation by entrenched vested interest groups benefiting from the perpetuation of the conflict. Weak commitment from regional governments to honouring their financial obligations. Probable conflict from three different training doctrines (UK, US, France) if not properly harmonised into one training regime for both MNJTF and other national forces. Increased military and financial commitment by P3 countries may result in increased risk of political backlash in their home constituencies should anything go wrong.
Gains: Closure of gaps in strategic planning, command and control and territorial delineation that insurgents have been exploiting, and can exploit. Ensuring that instead of four competing visions and strategies, one strategic plan is applied across four borders. Focusing regional priorities and efforts on a common regional goal of degrading the capabilities of insurgent groups and stabilising the area. Minimising corruption and wastage caused by gaps created through the current duplication of efforts.
Option ＃2: Focusing on a non-kinetic refocusing of the MNJTF within the confines of the current de facto reality that it is now a liaison centre, not an operational command/joint military force. This could be done by establishing a Signals Intelligence Group and an ISR Group as operational units with assets under their control, to better improve the battlespace by providing SIGINT/ISR services in support of regional militaries. Create a Psychological Operations capability, within the MNJTF, to conduct Psychological Operations across the region against insurgent organisations.
Create information influence operations, ideological warfare and strategic communications capabilities within the MNJTF to degrade insurgent capabilities in the information and ideology battlespace. Also creating Tactical and Operational Human Intelligence and Analysis capabilities in the MNJTF, tailored for support of regional militaries, will close the gaps strategic level national intelligence organisations cannot effectively fill so far. P3 states will provide financial and technical support in operationalising these capabilities.
Risks: Does not solve problem of conflicting national strategic plans, may come at the expense of improved regional military cooperation, perpetuates MNJTF structural weakness, and perpetuates the status quo with no fundamental changes.
Gains: Sides-steps opposition from vested interest groups seeking to protect their interests in military financing, will meet less political opposition from local military and civil administration elites, reduces political exposure of P3 governments.
Other Comments: None
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