The share volume of ammunition available to Boko Haram now forces most analyst to conclude that Nigeria is engaged in a full scale war of survival.
While Nigeria’s military has fought in the past decade with heavily armed militants and criminal gangs operating in the creeks of its oil-rich southern delta, analysts and security official say those groups never had access to anti-aircraft weapons nor did these groups launch attacks overrunning military barracks or levelling towns.
Where extremists gathered these sophisticated weapons also remains unclear, though they have several means available to them.
A propaganda video released in March by Boko Haram, featuring its leader Abubakar Shekau, showed fighters gathered around weapons they said they stole from an attack on an army barracks.
Those weapons included what appeared to be heavy machine-guns, rocket-propelled grenades and possibly anti-aircraft weapons, as well as ammunition and brand-new bulletproof vests.
Another source of tactics and weapons may come from northern Mali, where Nigerian extremists fought along others.
“Boko Haram will also likely recruit militants who fought and obtained new skills from warfare in Mali,” wrote analyst Jacob Zenn in a recent publication by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Army’s West Point.
“The Boko Haram attack on an army barracks in Monguno…, in which the militants mounted weapons on four-wheel-drive vehicles, and the discovery of improvised fighting vehicles in a raid on a Boko Haram hideout in Maiduguri … suggest that Boko Haram has already learned new methods of fighting from the Islamist militants in Mali.”
Meanwhile, arms are likely to continue to come out of Libya from heavily armed militias there, said analyst Zounmenou. Those arms can spread quickly through the Sahara Desert and into West Africa’s Sahel to Nigeria, a major shipment stop for illegal weapons, he said.
While Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has spoken before about the need to control arms shipments throughout West Africa, the trade continues largely unstopped.
And as more of those weapons end up in the hands of Islamic extremists in Nigeria’s north, more violence can be expected, said Zounmenou: “They are now really going to war.”