The Constraints on US Intelligence in Nigeria

Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn

Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn

The New Telegraph reported last week that approximately forty U.S. military personnel landed in Abuja to assist the Nigerian Army with operations against Boko Haram. Although additional information about their mission has yet to trickle out, a primary focus of any American advisory effort is likely to be intelligence collection and analysis.

The techniques and procedures U.S. intelligence specialists could provide would undoubtedly prove valuable for Nigerian troops tasked with fighting a distributed and mobile foe operating in an area the size of Rhode Island.

U.S. military doctrine describes the intelligence process as a cycle with several distinct stages. It begins with a commanding officer’s questions, which intelligence specialists turn into formal information requirements. These requirements drive the collection of raw data by a variety of means, including satellites, reconnaissance aircraft, espionage networks, and even the aggregation of civilian news reporting. The information is categorised, analysed, and turned into a finished product that is disseminated to consumers. Feedback is solicited, new questions are posed, and the cycle begins again.

Intelligence training for the Nigerian Army would likely consist of classroom instruction covering these steps in detail, with particular attention paid to how the intelligence cycle can be fused with a commanding officer’s overall planning process. Given the poor technical state of the Nigerian military, U.S.advisors would likely emphasise human intelligence (HUMINT) over more sophisticated – and expensive – methodologies. The instruction could include establishing and running networks of informants, debriefing friendly personnel on their observations, and interrogating captured enemy forces. The Nigerian Army’s documented history of human rights violations means that a particular emphasis would be placed on legal, ethical, and humane methods for dealing with prisoners.

Intelligence advisors could also provide support by allowing the Nigerian Army to leverage U.S. aerial reconnaissance assets for missions against Boko Haram. In May 2014, the United States deployed Predator and Global Hawk unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) as well as MC-12 Liberty manned surveillance aircraft to West Africa to assist in the search for the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped last April. Additionally, in March 2013, the United States was reported to have begun flying Predators on surveillance missions out of a base in Niger. While the current status of these platforms is unclear, assets like these could assist the Nigerian Army with tracking the movement of Boko Haram fighters and locating and identifying important insurgent leaders.

Despite the potential benefits of a U.S. advisory mission, there are still more questions than answers regarding the efforts’ ultimate efficacy. First, without systematic reform of the corruption and human rights abuses endemic to the Nigerian Army, it is unclear if a limited advisory mission will have much of a positive impact. Indeed, small numbers of U.S. troops have already been on the ground since May, assisting in operations to recover Nigeria’s missing schoolgirls without success. Second, Russia’s decision to provide counter terrorism training to 1,200 Nigerian troops may cause U.S. advisors to restrict information sharing, limiting their ability to cover sensitive topics or leverage external assets. Finally, the Nigerian government’s increasingly outspoken criticism of U.S. assistance efforts for refusing “to grant Nigeria’s request to purchase lethal equipment” does not foreshadow a positive working relationship between advisors and the Nigerian Army.

Without addressing these potential areas of concern, even the very best intelligence training would, at best, only have a marginal impact.

Jesse Sloman is a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council. He served on active duty in the Marine Corps from 2009 to 2013. 

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