The Global Initiative For Civil Stablisation (GICS), and the Conflict Studies And Analysis Project At GICS(CSAAP) in a bid to further expand the general understanding of dynamics around the conflict in Northeast Nigeria, is releasing this report. Headlined by the Executive Director of the CSAAP, Fulan Nasrullah, this report collates and presents research spanning the period from 2016-early 2019.
Almost three years after the new Islamic State’s West African Province was separated from the Abubakar Shekau BH, it has grown to become the major group in the immediate area of the Lake Chad, posing a long-term threat to regional stability.
The greatest success for ISWAP, has been its ability to coopt local grievances, economic activities and networks into its campaign to establish a state-appendage of the Global Islamic State in the region. No other actor, including regional governments and BH, come close to the level of success ISWAP has experienced in this regard.
While Islamic State financial support was crucial to the survival of ISWAP in 2016, and to the expansion of its resources and capabilities in 2017, by 2018 that support had sharply dropped to just 3.41% of ISWAP funding by 2018.
We estimate, based on data we collected in both ISWAP controlled and government-controlled territories in Nigeria and Nigeria, that ISWAP in 2018 earned as much as $35.2m in Naira, US Dollars, and West African CFA France, from taxes, fees charged local traders, smugglers, transporters, and involvement in the trade and production of dried fish, dried pepper and rice. A large part of this income went into paying salaries, providing for the civilians in territories it controls, and fueling its war machine.
Taxes in 2018 brought ISWAP some 45% of its income, the fish trade provided another 30% of its income, and the trade in dried pepper and rice provided 10% and 11.39% each.
From interviews with ISWAP affiliated individuals (regional states’ military, military intelligence and civilian intelligence officers with extensive knowledge of combat engagements with ISWAP over the past three years), analysis of data collected on attacks and numbers involved in ISWAP combat engagements we estimate that currently ISWAP has between 18,000 and 20,000 fighters in its ranks. This ties it for numbers with the strength of Nigerian Army troops in the immediate theatre (Northern Borno, Northern Yobe), which we believe (with caveats explained within the report) to be about 18,000 troops.
However the Nigerian government forces have more than 30,000 Civilian Joint Task Force militiamen in Borno State alone, of which a significant but indeterminate number are deployed alongside the Army in Northern Borno, absorbing casualties as much as the Army in some instances. When Nigerien troops in Diffa Prefecture are factored in, it becomes clear that the balance of numbers is firmly in the favour of regional states, although it is not enough to seize, hold and dominate territory in the area.
- Over the past two years, the landscape of the Islamist insurgency in Northeast Nigeria and the wider Lake Chad region, has largely changed, with the Islamic State’s West African Province gradually becoming the leading insurgent grouping.
- The Islamic State’s West African Province has evolved into a largely competent and disciplined (in the local context) fighting force.
- The Global Islamic State’s effort in enabling and moulding ISWAP is targeted, directed, and enduring. It increased substantially in the last quarter of 2018 and is on track to rise exponentially in 2019.
- ISWAP is evolving into a major part of a global machine, the Global Islamic State, that particularly seems to invest in co-opting local organisations with deep community ties.
- The main success of ISWAP has been its ability to effectively appeal to, and seamlessly and gradually co-opt local networks, while blending a globalist caliphate messaging with local grievances and competently use it to establish legitimacy in the eyes of local communities. ISWAP has deliberately adopted a strategy of avoiding unnecessary violence and exploitation against civilian populations.
- When necessary, ISWAP will visit harsh punishments on erring individual civilians.
- Although ISWAP’s primary target for now is locally focused, the machinery to attack Western interests in the region currently exists, and should conditions be determined to be right, such attacks will occur.
- The infrastructure to target Western homelands if a future need arises, is currently being developed by ISWAP. While ISWAP by itself currently doesn’t have the capabilities to carry out attacks against Western homelands, findings indicate that resources are being dedicated to developing such capabilities for the future.
- Regional militaries unless substantially reformed, do not possess the capabilities to decisively defeat and eliminate the group, nor will they be able to contain it.
- Clamping down on trades critical to the local economy around the Lake area, is breeding resentment among the civilian populations, against local government, as livelihoods are destroyed and no alternative provided in their place.
- There is a widespread intense hate within ISWAP ranks for the United Nations and its various agencies working in the Lake Chad area, and this hate – should opportunity present itself – will transform into active targeting of UN-affiliated aid workers.