John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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The Boko Haram War Machine

by Guest Blogger for John Campbell
October 8, 2014

Pictured above is a T-55 Main Battle Tank similar to the one captured by the Nigerian Military on September 27, 2014. Pictured above is a T-55 Main Battle Tank similar to the one captured by the Nigerian Military on September 27, 2014.


This is a guest post by Allen Grane, research associate for the Council on Foreign Relations Africa Studies program. Allen is an officer in the U.S. Army National Guard.

In early September there were reports that the Nigerian military captured a “quad barreled ZSU-23-4 Shilka” anti-aircraft gun that was mounted on a Toyota technical truck, from Boko Haram. Sahara Reporters later confirmed that the Nigerian military captured heavy weapons systems from Boko Haram such as a T-55 tank and a Panhard ERC-90 “Sagaie.” Now that we know the kind of weaponry in Boko Haram’s possession, we are left with two major questions.

First, can Boko Haram operate these weapons systems? While T-55’s and ZSU-23-4 “Shilka’s” are not the most advanced weapon systems, it does require some training to operate these systems properly (in Shekau’s latest video he loses control of a heavy machine gun he was firing). With time and practice, it is quite feasible that Boko Haram insurgents could learn to use these systems. It would seem that they have the experience needed as Boko Haram apparently shot down a Nigerian jet in early September with an anti-aircraft system similar to the captured Shilka.

The real difficulty in operating systems such as the T-55 and the “Sagaie” is more a matter of logistics than training. Vehicles need parts. Guns need bullets. And, tanks need gas. It is difficult for modern militaries like the United States to keep 100 percent of their tanks functional. These are machines that require an immense amount of maintenance and repair. If Boko Haram is somehow able to keep its heavy weaponry in working order, it will have to fuel them in order to use them in the fight against the Nigerian military. The basic fuel load on a T-55 tank carries 254 gallons of fuel which gives the T-55 a range of 242 miles. That means that a T-55 tank gets less than one mile per gallon of gas.

This raises a second question: if Boko Haram is able to use its heavy weaponry, how does it supply its logistical needs? The personnel to maintain the equipment would almost certainly come from one of the militaries in the region. But, where do the parts, bullets, and the fuel come from? There are varying hypotheses regarding the origin of the weaponry. It is possible that it comes from Libya or even the Nigerian military itself. Most likely, the equipment comes from various sources. Does Boko Haram get its fuel from Nigeria or other sources in the region? T-55’s run on diesel fuel. Some “bunkered” oil is “cooked” into diesel for domestic use in Nigeria. Boko Haram may draw on this source of supply. That does not preclude Boko Haram from acquiring diesel from outside of the region as well. It remains unclear where Boko Haram accesses fuel reserves necessary to keep its heavy weaponry running.

If Boko Haram is able to operate these weapons systems, it signifies a whole new level to the conflict. However, it is also possible that these systems go unused except as background pieces for propaganda videos. If this is the case the Nigerian military’s capture of these kinds of weapons are largely hollow victories.

Post a Comment 11 Comments

  • Posted by baba

    this war has been on new whole new level for sometime now. boko haram now is largely kanuris from chad, niger, and cameroun. nigerians are the vanguard but they are few, these foreign kanuris have been recruited in their thousands. their main motivation is religion nationalism and oil. oil has been discovered in chad and they think there be oil on the nigerian side. also madrasa [almajiris] have resolved on seizing power from the elites who have neglected education in the region. the insurgency is a difficult one to rout out because of the foreign element but it is possible. mass recruitment of civilian jtf in to the army educational ,political reforms to accommodate the regions sensibilities, .i.e madrasa graduates should have some political clout. and govt should take the insurgency very seriously despite its remote location because it could spread especially with anticipated violence in the coming 2015 elctions

  • Posted by dez zamanga

    boko haram is in the nigerian military,government,and neighbourin countries

  • Posted by BTT

    I strongly believe Boko Haram is politically motivated but her end target is to Islamize part and divide the country. The heavy weapons deployed by the sect is a prove of war declaration. If we look at the states really affected, Borno (APC) and Yobe (ANPP). It is obvious that the sect had felt that these non-PDP states would not be a point of interest to the PDP Central govt hence the states could be easily over-run. Adamawa would hold a bye-election to elect a new governor. The plan of Boko Haram is to step up attack to frustrate the election, just for PDP to loose grip of the state. And the Fulani are stepping up attack at the north-central, all in the aim of claiming lands for Islam. Therefore, I believe some civilian and military stake holders in the north are really supporting BH, giving them weapons, information and logistics supports. Also, foreigners are involved; that’s why BH shipments are moving from anywhere uninterruptedly into the country and it’s borders. Though I am not a political sycophant, I commend the efforts of Goodluck Jonathan for the campaign of a concerted effort with other sub-Saharan presidents. Without foreign alliance, BH can never end.

  • Posted by nfona macaulay ogar

    Let BH come out plainly to say what really want .

  • Posted by ₦ 1,500.00

    hunhunnn…. true talk

  • Posted by Nigerian

    The way foreigners make stupid pseudointellectual comments on boko haram is tiring. It does as much damage to us as does boko haram.

    Those weapons were captured on the battle field. Does that not tell that boko haram can operate them? I don’t know of anyone who would take something as lumbering as a T-55 to a battle field for show. If you cannot fire a heavy weapon, it immediately becomes a huge liability to mobility.

  • Posted by Okwori Emmanuel

    The sponsors of the war are not fools. They will not supply weapons without training personnels to handle them. From the description of the strength of Book Haram’s armoury it’s difficult to believe they are mere militants pressing for the satisfaction of their basic needs.

    They have ulterior motives yet to be disclosed. It may not be far from intention to recapture and recolonize Nigeria to meet selfish ends. They claim to be against western education, but they are not against the use of the products of western education. Is there any seriousness and credibility in their demand?

    We need a leader that have the political will to brace up with the activities of the insurgents, and to specifically expose and deal with the sponsors and their external collaborators. For now Nigeria, as a country doesn’t have the kind of sophisticated weapons Book Haram has. Rather than approach the companies that produce the required weapons to supply them directly to Nigeria in good other, agents of corruption decide to go through the back door, only to be arrested by South Africa. Nigeria is at the mercy of God almighty.

  • Posted by PRESS AUTHOR

    There is brighter end to insurgency in Nigeria but this requires collaborations with all the Political Parties and leaders of thoughts for the Nigeria project e.g former heads of state and heads of religious groups and leadership. Every well meaning NIGERIANS should see this as issues that concern all of us and not the PRESIDENT alone. The MILITARY needs support of all to win this battle over these forces of darkness.

  • Posted by Ike Obihara

    This is 2015 and the bet way to fight a war is with intelligence and financial instruments.
    The Economy of the entire central Africa region (Niger, Chat, Northern Cameroon, CAR, Sudan, Uganda, Zaire) used to be controlled through Miaduguri.
    We would be better of building a railway line from Maiduguri to Ethiopia being able to import and export goods and services into and out of an area that is cut off economically from progress though the lack of a viable communication system.
    By having Maiduguri as the port of entry into all of that region, so much economic opportunity would be created by this that the war would stop because people would have hope in a different area and no time for religious fanaticism bore out of economic hopelessness.

  • Posted by Anthony Cole

    The insurgency is a difficult one to rout out because of the foreign element but it is possible. mass recruitment of civilian jtf in to the army educational ,political reforms to accommodate the regions sensibilities.

  • Posted by Niall

    The only question to be asked, and the one the author studiously avoided, is: HOW ON GOD’S GREEN EARTH DID THEY GET THEIR HANDS ON THESE??

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