The Nigerian Air Force is set to deploy its newly assembled fighter jets, Agusta 109 helicopters, in the North-Western states currently ravaged by bandits.
The jets are expected to complement existing efforts being made to combat the rising killings and kidnappings in the region, it was further learnt.
The power-attack helicopters were unveiled at the 55th anniversary of the Air Force on Monday.
Speaking exclusively on Friday, the NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, said more personnel would also be deployed in the region to combat the escalating violence and killings.
He noted that the Air Force would on Saturday open a helipad in the Birnin Gwari area of Kaduna State to serve as an operational base for its fighter aircraft deployed in the region.
The helipad, Daramola said, would be opened by the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, and the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai.
There have been growing concerns over the spate of killings and kidnappings in the northern region, especially North-Western states like Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna.
The Acting Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, had while speaking at the quarterly Northern Traditional Rulers’ Council meeting in Kaduna said that owing to banditry and communal violence, 436 deaths were recorded in the North-West between January and April, 2019.
Adamu explained that Zamfara recorded 203 murder incidents while 104 of them were linked with banditry.
According to the police chief, Katsina had 21 murder cases while Sokoto had 19, adding that “it is pertinent to mention that Zamfara has the highest national kidnap rate of 281 victims in what has been directly linked to activities of armed bandits (sic) in the state.”
Daramola confirmed to one of our correspondents on Friday that the Agusta 109 helicopters would be inducted into the North-West theatre in addition to the eight aircraft already deployed in the region.
Daramola said, “The Chief of Air Staff has mentioned that the two Agusta 109 aircraft will be deployed to add value in the operations against bandits in the North-West. We have intensified operations in the general area.
“On April 8, we deployed additional assets in the North-West region, which made it a total of eight aircraft that were deployed there, and these are attack helicopters, Alpha Jets and ISR platforms.
“The newly assembled Agusta 109 helicopter will also be inducted into the operations of the North-West. On Saturday, the Air Force will inaugurate the helipad that was established in the Birnin-Gwari area of Kaduna State near Zamfara to add impetus to the operations being conducted within that general area.
“The personnel have already been deployed. We have another helipad in Gusau and these are the air fields where operations are launched out against bandits in the North-West region.”
When asked if NAF would treat the bandits as terrorists, Daramola said the Air Force might not be able to attack the bandits like terrorists because some of the bandits live among civilians unlike the North-East where the Boko Haram terrorists had solitary hideouts.
He added, “There is a slight difference in the sense that in the North-West you have to avoid collateral damage, especially when these bandits are not in their camps; they stay in places where there are civilians and non-combatants. And that is why we are not using bombs which are what we use in the North-East.
“So the operational environment in the North-West is somewhat different from the North-East, but the criminals are all enemies of the state and they do not want the safety and security of Nigerians because of what they stand to gain, whether ideologically or socio-economically.”
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Army in Abuja on Friday said its current threat assessments indicated the migration of bandits from Zamfara State to Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto and Niger states. It said it had expanded its operation, Harbin Kunama 3, to cover these other states.
The Chief of the Army Staff, Lt Gen Tukur Buratai, who stated this at the Army Headquarters, called on residents of the affected states to persevere in the face of inconveniences due to restrictions that might be imposed in the areas.
He, however, stressed that the army would ensure the defeat of the fleeing bandits.
He said, “The Exercise Harbin Kunama 3 was launched on April 1, 2019, in Gusau, Zamfara State. Within the past one month, several bandits and criminal elements have been captured and killed while some camps, hideouts and equipment of the criminals have been destroyed.
“It has, however, been observed that there appears to be a resurgence of their activities in other contiguous states to Zamfara, like Kaduna, Kano and Niger states. It is against this backdrop that Exercise Harbin Kunama 3 is being reorganised and its mandate is to ensure the complete defeat of the fleeing bandits.