Is the Tucano Aircraft a Game Changer in Nigeria’s Terrorism Fight?

AKURE, NIGERIA – The A-29 Super Tucano began its dive, the engine booming over the makeshift camp close to Kukawa along the fringes of Lake Chad in Nigeria’s Borno State. Bullets riddled the camp, creating an eruption of sand, grass, and bush.

As the aircraft ascended back into the February sky, the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) camp lay in ruins. Men lay on the ground, groaning and crying in anguish.

On February 18, multiple reports said top ISWAP Commander Malam Buba Danfulani died in the airstrike along with some of his lieutenants.

The Defense Post tried to contact the Nigerian Air Force regarding the strike, but emails went unanswered.

However, the raid demonstrates the air force’s increasing effectiveness in engaging insurgents through aerial attacks in Borno, targeting infrastructure, armories, camps, and other high-value targets. Increasingly, commentators see the Tucano as a game changer.

Nigerian Air Force and the A-29

Nigeria began using the turboprop light attack aircraft last year after taking delivery of 12 A-29 Super Tucanos from the US in the face of the air force’s inability to neutralize Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists.

In an interview last year, Chief of Air Staff Oladapo Amao told officers that the jet would be important in the fight against the insurgents, but was quick to say it could not end the nation’s security challenges without the assistance of ground troops.

A-29 Super Tucano induction ceremony
Nigeria received 12 Tucanos from the United States to help fight mounting insecurity. Photo: US Embassy in Nigeria

Still, many Nigerians praise the Tucano for its ground support, surveillance, and airstrike capabilities on insurgent positions.

Its deployment has had a marked effect on government anti-terrorism efforts, executing increasingly devastating strikes on rebel sites and forcing them to surrender in large numbers.

The Tucano allows government forces to stop rebels from launching operations, supporting ground troops in preventing the rebels from carrying out attacks.

Explaining the importance of the aircraft, an intelligence expert with the University of Ibadan, Dr. Abiodun Temitope, told The Defense Post “There is no doubt that the aircraft, when deployed efficiently, would enhance the Nigerian state’s war against terrorism.”

“But if not efficiently used or deployed to global standards, it becomes dangerous, most especially when the deployment misses the main targets, thereby annihilating innocent citizens,” he added.

Dr. Temitope called the aircraft an embodiment of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, but advised the air force to exercise caution when using it in operations.

Political Will

However, Professor Sheriff Folarin, an international relations scholar at the Covenant University, ascribed the military’s recent success to the political will of the government, which found expression in the purchase of the Tucano.

“There was no fight before the deployment of Tucano,” he told The Defense Post. “There was no political will on the part of the government.” He added that the military wasn’t disciplined or equipped enough.

“It was when the government and the military found their officials were becoming victims that they had to develop a political will. The Tucano was one of the end products of the political will.

“It was a smart aircraft with the capacity for patrol, formation, and detection of terrorist hangouts, and able to neutralize elements of terror wherever they were hiding.”

The Tucano in Action

Recent examples of the jet’s deadliness seem to confirm these scholars’ views.

In November, terrorists attempted to overrun Gajiram in Borno State, but after a Tucano carried out an offensive in conjunction with ground troops, soldiers recovered the bodies of 26 ISWAP terrorists.

A month later, a Tucano strike on ISWAP armory bases in Kusuma and Sigir killed many insurgents, including Abou Sufyan, a leading ISWAP commander.

In January, Malam Ari, another commander, along with foreign mercenaries in charge of making explosives, perished when a Tucano struck.

How Important is the Tucano?

Experts see the aircraft as vital to the country’s efforts to combat terrorism, particularly when combined with ground troops. Ordinary Nigerians wax lyrical about the air force’s new addition to the fight.

“We’re winning the war with the Tucano,” Borno resident Adamu Ali Adamu told The Defense Post. “Insha Allah. We’ll drive the terrorists into the Sambissa Forest.”

Isyaku Umar, another Borno resident, also expressed his happiness at the plane’s arrival.

“War happens because evil people want to play games. Kudos to the Tucano for dealing with such evil people here.”

The Tucano strikes give confidence to the military in the battle against Boko Haram and ISWAP. However, time will tell whether it’ll be the game changer Nigeria needs for victory against its enemies.

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