The Zamfara State Council of Chiefs has expressed worry that air strikes undertaken by the military did not hit the main target, as areas shelled were not actual hideouts of bandits and the victims were innocent civilians.
In a statement, the traditional rulers, who took on the Defence Minister, General Mansur Ali, over his commets accusing traditional rulers of aiding bandits in the ongoing killings of innocent villagers in the affected areas, added: “Report from Mutu in Gusau the state capital and Tsafe Local Government Area, Tangaram in Anka Local Government Area and Dumburum in Zurmi Local Government Councils among others indicated that the areas shelled were not the actual bandits’ hideouts and the victims were innocent peasants.
The statement was silent on the number of civilians and casualties from the alleged miscalculation of the Air Force.
But the the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has called on anyone with evidence that innocent civilians were targeted by the NAF during its recent air strikes in Zamfara, to produce such evidence.
The Air Force spokesman, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, said in a statement: ”The attention of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has been drawn to some media reports insinuating that the recent air strikes conducted by its Air Task Force for Operation DIRAN MIKIYA killed only innocent civilians in the areas attacked and not bandits.
”The NAF finds such reports rather ridiculous because most of the locations attacked are within the Rugu, Sububu and Kagara Forests general area, which are known armed bandits hideouts that have been attacked in the past, without any outcry.
“Besides, the NAF target selection process for air operations is particularly rigorous and methodical in order to ensure proper target identification and thereby prevent strikes on wrong locations.
“For the avoidance of doubts, the public is to please note that the locations attacked from 8 to 11 April 2019 were selected based on human intelligence (HUMINT) reports obtained from security agencies and other government sources, traditional and community leaders as well as reliable, vetted informants.
“These were all further confirmed by days of detailed day and night Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions to ensure proper targeting for avoidance of collateral damage. To further ensure this, as standard practice, NAF attack aircraft on air interdiction missions are accompanied by ISR platforms that guide them to designated targets.
“Furthermore, NAF pilots, by training and in line with extant Rules of Engagement (ROEs) for the operation, do not attack any location if it is observed that non-combatants, especially women and children, are present. In such cases, the pilots would rather return to Base with their munitions unexpended. Consequently, it is inconceivable that the NAF would attack locations where innocent civilians reside.
“In view of the foregoing, the NAF finds it rather mischievous that anyone would spread such deliberate misinformation whilst the Service is doing its best to effectively respond to the challenges facing the good people of Zamfara State and its environs.
“Rather than making such spurious and unsubstantiated allegations, NAF requests that anyone with evidence to the effect that innocent civilians were targeted by the NAF air strikes should produce such evidence.
“The NAF, as a professional Service, would not want to join issues with any group of individuals, including traditional rulers, but will rather remain committed to ensuring the safety and security of all Nigerians.
“Accordingly, we shall continue to work assiduously, in synergy with sister Services and other security agencies, to rid the Northwest of all criminal elements. The general public can therefore rest assured that the NAF will not be deterred but will sustain its air operations to facilitate a return to normalcy that would enable Nigerians in the area pursue their legitimate aspirations.
“In this regard, the NAF hereby advocates public support, and not distracting and unsubstantiated allegations, as its personnel continue to sacrifice towards eliminating all threats to the security and, indeed, the development of our beloved Country.”
Meanwhile, the traditional rulers have expressed dismay over the statement credited to Minister of Defence, Mansur Ali, accusing traditional rulers of aiding bandits in the ongoing killings of innocent villagers in the affected areas.
In a statement after an emergency meeting in Gusau, the Zamfara State capital, their spokesperson, the Emir of Anka, Attahiru Ahmad, said the council challenges the Minister of Defence, Mr Ali to name any traditional ruler involved in aiding the bandits.
Ali, in a statement, had earlier said intelligence had shown that some of them were involved in the ongoing killings of Nigerians across some northern part of the country.
They dared the minister to name the traditional rulers involved in the reprehensible activities for the government to take measures against them.
Failure to do so, they added would make the minister a peddler of false information, who is out l to tarnish the good image of the traditional leaders.
The statement further said that over the years, traditional rulers have cooperated with government and security agents by providing necessary information about locations and names of the criminals.
It, however, said that the government failed to act up to expectations to address the situation.
The council of chiefs said effort to end banditry activities in Zamfara would only be achieved if the main camps of the bandits are taken over by security personnel stationed there for a considerable period of time.
“This will deprive the criminals’ mobility and supply routes, thus securing all the affected areas.
“The council therefore, urged the federal government to maintain its status in the fight against bandits in the state to end the killings and kidnapping of people, the statement adds.