Armed Opposition Group Attacks - Borno State, Nigeria


The Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), a splinter of Boko Haram (BH), is growing in power and influence. In December 2018, ISWAP overran a major military base in Baga, on the shores of Lake Chad, which the Nigerian army had previously recaptured in February 2015. Although on 21 February 2019 the Multi-National Joint Task Force[i][1] (MNJTF) launched Operation ‘Yancin Tafki’, aimed at “making islands and other settlements in Lake Chad untenable for Boko Haram Terrorists”, there is no evidence that forces have since retaken Baga. It is therefore a reasonable assumption that Baga is, for now, the de facto ‘capital of the caliphate’ from which ISWAP is mounting its operations.

From its territorial base of Lake Chad, ISWAP is waging a guerrilla war across north-eastern Nigeria, southern Niger and elsewhere on the lake’s periphery. By filling gaps in governance and service delivery, it has cultivated support among local civilians and has turned neglected communities into a source of economic support.

ISWAP’s approach also appears to have paid dividends in terms of recruitment and support and is currently estimated to have 3,500-5,000 members. In contrast, BH is estimated to have roughly 1,500-2,000 fighters.

During the past eight weeks there has been a significant increase in ISWAP’s operational tempo in Borno State. This chimes with an uptick in rhetoric from ISIS regarding the establishment of a caliphate on the African continent, a thematic trail uniting the insurgent campaigns in Mali, Burkina Faso and NE Nigeria, and early indications of new ISIS campaigns beginning in eastern DRC and Mozambique.

On 26 April there was a significant attack in southern Borno in which a military Forward Operating Base (FOB) at Mararaba Kimba (31 km NE of Biu) was overrun by a large insurgent force. The security forces had to withdraw in the face of overwhelming opposition, losing both manpower and equipment in the process.


ISWAP earlier this year in Borno

ISWAP earlier this year in Borno

The scale, tempo and possibly the geographical range of ISWAP operations will continue to grow as they recruit (both seasoned fighters[2] and local recruits) and increase their military inventory at the security forces’ expense.  Although Nigerian and MNJTF forces look to be well resourced with both weapon systems and logistical support, they appear unable to withstand the ferocity of ISWAP assaults.

Despite total air superiority, security forces appear unable to dominate the hinterland between their bases, giving ISWAP almost complete freedom of manoeuvre between and around the FOBs.

In southern Borno, the fact that attacks on Mararaba Kimba and Delwa were highly mobile, attackers were reportedly using at least 15 gun trucks, and that their successes were subsequently reported on the Amaq news site[3], all lend credence to there being an ISWAP combat team operating south of the Damaturu-Maiduguri road.  Use of multi-media platforms continues to be a key part of the campaign strategy for both sides in efforts to influence a broad range of stakeholders. At this moment, ISIS messaging appears to have the lead over the Nigerian Government and the military.


  • Ensure compliance with your organisation’s journey management procedures.

  • Seek the latest situation report from local contacts immediately prior to travel.

  • Remain alert to and report any changes in the local security environment.

  • Carry identification documents at all time.

  • Cooperate with security forces if you encounter them.


  • Access into Borno State will remain extremely limited whilst the risk level remains EXTREME.

  • Access along the Maiduguri-Damaturu road will be disrupted when military ‘cordon and search’ operations are under way. Use of the road will be constantly reviewed against the risk of BH attacks in the vicinity of the route.

  • Operational delivery in Yobe State may be disrupted, with security related constraints applied by the SRMT in response to Boko Haram activity in specific border LGAs.


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During May ISWAP conducted significant attacks against security force FOBs in Magumeri (3 May), Ganjigana (10 May) and Gubio (20 May), all located between 40 and 80kms from, and generally North West of Maiduguri. In each case the bases were overrun, ISWAP took what stores, ammunition and equipment they found useful and destroyed the rest.

To the south of Maiduguri, ISWAP reported killing 15 troops in an ambush on a convoy near Sabon Gari (35km NE of Biu) and supported the news on Amaq with photographic evidence. Despite this, the Army denied the incident, branding it fake news.



At the beginning of June ISWAP conducted multiple attacks on military FOBs. On 1 June, Dalwa, 25km south of Maiduguri, was attacked and overrun, with the subsequent loss of military manpower, supplies, ammunition and equipment.  Reportedly, the assault was launched from Alagarno forest in Damboa LGA using four Armoured Personnel Carriers and 12 x gun trucks.

Having overrun the base, the insurgents reportedly destroyed a T55 tank and commandeered 2 x gun trucks, a troop-carrying lorry, one armoured personnel carrier, a mortar and a large quantity of ammunition. The Army reoccupied the base with reinforcements from Maiduguri after ISWAP had left.

In what appeared to be a concurrently timed attack on the evening of Saturday 1 June, ISWAP launched an attack against security forces in Dikwa, 83km East North East of Maiduguri. Although this attack was unsuccessful in dislodging the military, subsequent attacks against Marte and Kirenowa, north of Dikwa, both succeeded in overrunning the FOBs. ISWAP subsequently claimed fourteen Nigerian soldiers killed, six vehicles and four armoured vehicles destroyed and two vehicles captured. Although there is no clarification from military sources, it is reported that escaping troops made their way from Marte to Dikwa, whilst large numbers of displaced civilians also fled to Maiduguri.

On 12 June ISWAP attacked a military FOB in Kareto in the North Western part of Borno. only 16km from the border with Yobe State. In a statement published in Amaq, ISWAP claimed 20 soldiers, including the commanding officer, were killed and a tank and a Shilka ZSU-23-4[4] were destroyed. ISWAP also stated they captured 7 4x4 vehicles and burned the base, then "withdrew safely".

Despite the presence of an ISWAP force in that area being freely reported by various media sources, it appears that the security forces were unable to mount an effective military response as ISWAP then went on to attack Damasak, 22km North of Kareto, on 15 June.

Although BH remained relatively inactive over the reporting period, on 16 June they demonstrated their continuing capability to mount an attack by sending in three suicide bombers to the village of Mandarari, near Konduga. This attack targeted a sports venue and associated catering stalls, reportedly killing at least 30 and injuring more than 40 civilians.


[1] The MNJTF comprises troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

[2] There is evidence that ISIS fighters have joined up with ISWAP having migrated from failed ISIS campaigns in the Middle East.

[3] Amaq is reportedly the ISIS official new outlet

[4] The ZSU-23-4 is a Russian made tracked anti-aircraft platform.