I want to draw attention to a series of concerning trends that are being overlooked. These trends worry me, especially when considering the long-term negative trajectory of the Anglophone Crisis.
Conflict Spreading Outside the Anglophone Regions
On Sunday, a rare attack occurred outside the Anglophone Regions. According to reports, a police station and Gendarmerie post in Galim, West Region. The attack killed at least 8, including two policemen and two gendarmes. Firstly, this is another example of the growing reach, ability, and confidence of separatist groups. To be able to launch an attack some 4 miles into a neighboring region is not the work of an amateur group of ‘ragtag’ rebels. Furthermore, reports describe both targets being hit simultaneously, which shows how this was a well-coordinated, pre-planned attack. I’ve also read accounts that suggest they were deliberately targeting those areas to retrieve weapons and supplies, and video evidence suggests that they were successful in that aim, retrieving multiple AK-variants, FALs and a Beretta PM12 submachine gun. They also took a quantity of body armour and tactical equipment. I have heard suggestions of the existence of some kind Ambazonian ‘Special Forces’ before, and whilst I still think this is largely propaganda, there is clearly a trusted separatist unit capable of performing more sophisticated raids.
Secondly (and more importantly), by its nature the Anglophone Crisis has been limited to only the Anglophone regions of Cameroon. There have been two previous incursions into the neighboring regions, but those were not as sophisticated as Sunday’s attack. Is this a new stage of the conflict, where cross-border raids become more common? Where (and what) is within reach of such raids? If it does become a new dynamic, how would the populations of the adjacent regions respond?
This could be a really significant shift in the crisis, but only time will tell. It certainly feels different to the previous cross-border incidents. This is something to watch.
The Growing Usage of IEDs
Also on Sunday, the Women’s Day Parade in Bamenda was hit by a brutal bomb attack, carried out by separatist forces. 1 soldier was killed with up to 8 other people wounded. Graphic imagery released of the soldiers in medical facilities reveal terrible, life-changing injuries. Separatists have been developing their IED capability over time, with a few videos showing past training and test attempts. At least one government Toyota was hit by a small mine at one point during an ambush, and more recently (and famously), an armoured convoy was hit by a larger IED earlier in 2020. So this is not a ‘new’ thing, but it is the most successful attack thus far.
IEDs are a powerful, deadly tool, and are a cornerstone of modern insurgency. They act as a force multiplier, and they caused the international coalitions in Afghanistan and Iraq to lose hundreds of troops. They accounted for up to 63% of coalition deaths in Iraq by 2007. The stories of British soldiers being killed by IEDs in inadequate ‘Snatch’ Land Rovers will remain etched in the minds of the British defence community for a long time to come. That is the problem with IEDs- they are weapons of terror, and can have a severe political cost. They are indiscriminate weapons, and so will leave anybody in the vicinity- civilian or soldier- dead or with terrible, life-changing injuries. And they can go wrong. That IED planted for an army convoy will still go off if a civilian bus drives over it. That political cost can be both local and international too, as their usage can quickly temper any sympathy from abroad. Boko Haram use IEDs, suicide bombers and the like. Is there a danger of separatist groups becoming not dissimilar to a group they claim to be so different from?
There is also something to be written on the Fulani/Mbororo element, but that will have to wait for another time.