THE Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, has said the Air Force will not bomb Niger Delta but it will protect the people and the oil and gas infrastructure in the region as much as possible.
Abubakar, who spoke to a select team of newsmen in Abuja, on Sunday, also said the Force did not have concrete information on the location of Chibok girls.
Speaking on the operation of the force in the South-South region of the country,
Abubakar said “the talks, negotiations, meetings and so on are political issues; I am not competent to really express an opinion on that.
“But what I can tell you is that our mandate, by the constitution, is to ensure that we protect the territorial integrity of Nigeria and ensure that the Nigerian people are able to go about pursuing their legitimate aspirations and goals without any hindrance.
“We already have airplanes in the South-South that is supporting the operation which the Defence Headquarters is handling.
“What we are doing is to give protection, as much as possible, to oil and gas infrastructure and to also protect the communities. On whether we are going to start bombing Niger Delta, no.”
He also stated that the issue of dialogue with Niger Delta Avengers is a sensitive issue, which only the authorities could decide.
He declared that the military would be making a final push into the Sambisa forest once the rain subsided.
The air chief also debunked recent claims by the Boko Haran sect that the Air Force might have killed a number of the Chibok girls during its air raids of the forest.
Asked if there is any intelligence report on the presence of the Chibok girls, he said: “honestly, we don’t. That is the truth of the matter.
“Even if you see women in Sambisa Forest dressed in hijab, how are you sure they are women and not men? The insurgents can lure you into coming in, thinking that the girls are there and it is only when you get there that they remove their hijab and you will see that they are men with their rifles. That is one of the tricks of war. They want to remain alive and they want to kill you.
“So, there is no credible intelligence that will specifically tell you that these girls are there. All of us are passionate about these girls, on a daily basis, we search for them. We are working, I believe we will get there one day.”
Speaking further on the video clips released by the Boko Haram, he said: “as for the latest video clip by the insurgents, this is cheap propaganda. Even the IED that they developed, have you ever seen a complete body together after an explosion on any location?
“Even the IED, the crudest form of bomb, you put there and sometimes you go there, you don’t see nothing after an explosion, not to talk of a 250kg bomb. What they used in the IED, how many kilogrammes are we talking about? It is insignificant.
“Someone even told me: ‘I saw one of the girls moving her head.’ I said, well I didn’t see that. What I can tell you is that, just looking at the way they did it (the video clip), it could not have been something after an airstrike. If you drop a bomb, there is a crater, where is the crater?
“If you drop a bomb, within certain meters of the point of impact, everybody there will be gone and will be shredded in most cases, depending on the type of bomb, where it is dropped and the kind of configuration you used to do the bombing.
“But if you now neatly arrange people and said these people were killed by air strikes, it does not make sense at all. Let people ask themselves. They have seen IED explosions, have they ever seen live bodies kept intact together? These guys (insurgents) are just trying to whip up sentiments. It is because they know that every Nigerian is concerned about these Chibok girls. I have daughters and sometimes when I looked at my daughters, I remember those girls.
“There is no day that the sun rises and sets that we don’t go out hoping to see these girls. From January this year to August 17, we flew about 2,600 hours, all missions, and about 50 per cent of that was ISRS (Intelligence Surveilllance and Reconnaissance).
“Why do we do that? First, we were hoping that through intelligence, we might be able to capture the movement of those girls. Maybe through that intelligence, we will be able to locate what we consider ‘legitimate targets’.
“Somebody asked of collateral damage. There is no military operation without collateral damage. Even in the most advanced countries of the world, sometimes you find collateral damage. We are not saying that everything is perfect, what we are saying is that we are taking every step humanly possible within available resources, to ensure that we have a clear understanding of the battle space and we are able to determine the legitimate targets to be attacked.
“We don’t go out specifically to attack civilians. Like I said, counter-insurgency is about winning hearts and minds. The thing at the back of our heads is that make sure, as much as possible, you look out for the criminals.”
On the challenges posed by the Sambisa forest, the air chief said: “the forest alone is about 60,000 square kilometres. It extends even into Cameroon. That was why sometimes in the past the insurgents do whatever and sneaked into Cameroon. But now Cameroon has been hot for them and they are coming back.
“We still fly over Sambisa forest on a regular basis but there are issues with the terrain. The terrain is difficult for land forces. You can discuss that with the Chief of Army Staff.
“But I can tell you that Sambisa forest is substantially deserted. From what we have been seen from our ISR pictures, it is extremely difficult to say the place can be occupied, especially now. What we are targeting, God willing, is that at the end of rainy season, it will be much easier for these equipment to move in.”