Target Maiduguri: How Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP)’s Ramadan Offensive Will Counter Operation Tura Takai Bango

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 19 Issue: 7


The start of 2021 was marked by Nigerian military offensives against Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Jamaat Ahl al-Sunna li-Dawa wal-Jihad (JASDJ), which are collectively known as “Boko Haram.” The military offensives codenamed Operation Tura Takai Bango were launched on January 3 and were intended to be “theater-wide,” but with an emphasis on preventing ISWAP from erecting checkpoints on the road from Yobe State’s capital, Damatru, to Borno State’s capital, Maiduguri, where ISWAP consistently abducted and stole from passengers (, January 15). ISWAP was already threatening to cut Maiduguri off from the rest of Borno through roadway ambushes. However, obstructing the Damatru-Maiduguri roadway was additionally strategic for ISWAP because it would essentially cut Borno itself off from the rest of Nigeria.

One flashpoint to emerge from Operation Tura Takai Bango was Alagarno Forest, which straddles areas from Damboa in southwest Borno toward Goniri in eastern Yobe. Goniri is also located just south of the Damatru-Maiduguri roadway. Early in Operation Tura Takai Bango, on January 6, the Nigerian military reported it “took out” a compound hosting “high-profile” ISWAP leaders in Damboa. At the same time, it also “inflicted heavy casualties” in other air strikes on JASDJ hideouts in Sambisa Forest, which is near Borno’s eastern border with Cameroon (, January 15). However, as is typical in any state-insurgent information war, ISWAP released its own claims backed by photographic and video evidence of counter-attacks against the Nigerian military in and around Alagarno Forest, especially Gorgi, Goniri, and Kafa, including:

  • January 18 photos in Gorgi, with two ISWAP fighters wearing black uniforms and standing on top an armed personnel carrier (APC) in distinct Islamic State choreographic style;
  • January 21 photos in Kafa and Gorgi, with an ISWAP fighter on top of a destroyed APC and a child soldier beside another APC;
  • February 7 photos in Goniri and Gorgi showing several Nigerian soldiers killed, destroyed vehicles and equipment for constructing a military post, and a captured APC and weapons stash;
  • February 12 photos in Kafa and Gorgi, with several Nigerian soldiers killed and fire set to Nigerian military vehicles, which were also seen in February 10 video footage released by IS of those same attacks;
  • A February 22 video in Goniri, with a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED) attack on Nigerian troops;
  • March 12 photos in Goniri and Gorgi, showing several Nigerian soldiers killed and captured APCs and other military vehicles and weapons stashes;
  • March 14 photos in Alagarno, with an ISWAP fighter wearing a Nigerian army uniform showing a captured Nigerian soldier whose legs were lost in an improvised explosion device (IED) explosion. Other destroyed APCs were also shown, including one with an ISWAP fighter standing on top of it; and
  • March 21 photos in Goniri, with two military vehicles captured and a local church set on fire. [1]

Amid these attacks around Alagarno Forest, an article in IS’ weekly al-Naba newsletter on March 11 was published and attributed to a commander of ISWAP’s “Faruq division.” Faruq is a term which the group has long used to refer to the Yobe-Borno border (al-Naba, March 11). The ISWAP commander asserted that the group conducted 30 bombings and destroyed 37 military vehicles in Kafa alone and killed or wounded 200 soldiers overall. The result, according to the commander, was that the Nigerian army’s attempt to build a road between Damboa and Goniri to become a military supply line was thwarted, soldiers became confined to their posts for fear of entering ISWAP’s “minefield,” and ISWAP launched counter-attacks into areas, such as Askira, outside the main battle zone, where the Nigerian army had not expected them. Indeed, ISWAP released a video on February 12 showing several dozen fighters in captured military vehicles and an APC entering Askira and maneuvering through the town. [2] It has also been through Askira that ISWAP’s Alagarno Forest-based fighters have attacked as far south as Adamawa State, where the fighters have destroyed churches (, February 23, 2020).

ISWAP also killed around 70 Nigerian soldiers in Goniri in March 2020, which, as usual, the group photographed and video-recorded and later released through IS media channels (, March 24, 2020). The Goniri attack preceded a Nigerian military offensive in the areas around Alagarno Forest. However, as evidenced by ISWAP’s continued attacks in recent weeks, the offensive did not have a lasting effect.

At that same time in March 2020, Chad launched an offensive around Lake Chad, which was in response to a local JASDJ faction, referred to as the Bakura faction attack that killed 92 Chadian soldiers (, March 25, 2020). The Chadian offensive was largely successful in reducing the Bakura faction’s threat, as no similar repeat of JASDJ attacks have occurred in Chad since then. The Chadian offensive did not differentiate between JASDJ and its ISWAP rivals and also targeted ISWAP bases, at least on the Chadian side of Lake Chad, and reduced, but did not eliminate, the ISWAP threat in Chad (Terrorism Monitor, May 1, 2020).

After the series of ISWAP attacks around in Alagarno Forest in March, clashes have since abated, indicating Operation Tura Takai Bango’s incursion has been mostly halted and resulted in at least a stalemate. However, ISWAP’s Lake Chad-based fighters have since been escalating attacks around Lake Chad in Niger, Chad, and Cameroon, while the Alagarno Forest-based fighters regroup. ISWAP’s claimed attacks around Lake Chad have been on:

  • March 24 between Bosso, Niger and Mallam Fatori, Nigeria, injuring and killing several soldiers;
  • March 24 in Baragarom, Chad;
  • March 29 in Dabanga, Cameroon;
  • April 2 between Bosso, Niger and Mallam Fatori, Nigeria, killing six soldiers in an IED attack;
  • April 2 in Maine-Soroa, killing Nigerien soldiers and destroying an APC with an IED;
  • April 2 in Gagamari, pilfering Nigerien military supplies;
  • April 4 in Diffa, killing five Nigerien soldiers;
  • April 4 in Soueram, killing five Cameroonian soldiers; and
  • April 4 in N’gagam, killing five Nigerien soldiers, capturing six military vehicles, and detonating an IED, some of which were revealed in an ISWAP photo release (com/TomaszRolbiecki, April 2021).

ISWAP has also increased operations around Maiduguri, having cut off electricity to the city (Agence France-Presse, March 25). JASDJ, for its part, has also assaulted Maiduguri, albeit not necessarily in coordination with ISWAP and coming from the direction of Sambisa Forest, to the city’s south (Telegram, February 25). With Ramadan beginning on April 13, ISWAP maybe planning a new offensive on Maiduguri, while the attacks around the Lake are intended to keep those three countries’ armies busy. This may also deter those three armies from supporting Nigeria in case ISWAP’s “Ramadan Offensive” succeeds and the organization begins to seriously threaten Maiduguri or capture new territories elsewhere in Borno. Such an operation would serve as a warning that if Chad and Niger support Nigeria, ISWAP is still more than capable of making them pay a price.


[1] These photos can be seen on the author’s personal website

[2] The video can be seen on the author’s personal website