THE Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has accused traditional rulers in Zamfara State of being mischievous in their accusation that innocent villagers were being bombed by the military in the state.
NAF, in a statement on Friday by its Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, stated that its attention had been drawn to the insinuation 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.
NAF said it found such reports rather ridiculous because most of the locations attacked were within the Rugu, Sububu and Kagara forest general area which, it said, are known armed bandits’ hideouts that have been attacked in the past without any outcry.
The Zamfara State Council of Chiefs had, on Thursday, cried out that many innocent villagers had been killed in misdirected air strikes by the military in the ongoing fight against bandits in the state.
Led by the Emir of Bungudu, Alhaji Hassan Attahiru, the council made the disclosure at the end of an emergency meeting in Gusau, where it noted that the airstrikes undertaken by the military did not hit the main camps of the bandits.
But reacting in the statement it released on Friday, NAF said its targets selection process for air operations “is particularly rigorous and methodical” in order to ensure proper target identification and prevent strikes on wrong locations.
The statement reads: “For the avoidance of doubt, 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 North-West 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.”