Small Wars Journal

The Boko Haram Insurgency: Applying the FID Model?

Thu, 03/31/2016 - 3:33pm

The Boko Haram Insurgency: Applying the FID Model?

Daniel E. Ward


Boko Haram presents an insurgency threat to the country of Nigeria and its regional neighbors, as well as a threat to the United States. Nigeria is a critical US ally in Africa, representing a need for security and stability. While this insurgency has been previously addressed along the lines of a terrorist threat, this approach has been too narrow in its focus and has not properly brought to bear the full spectrum of various instruments of power (IOP). The US should employ a traditional foreign internal defense (FID) approach to Boko Haram in order to address both US and Nigerian interests. Though simple on the surface, a challenge exists as in the past decade the US has adopted a more “direct action” approach to issues such as Boko Haram, and moved away from traditional skills sets such as FID. At its heart, this approach would use limited US conventional or asymmetric forces against the threat, while applying IOP to bolster and support host nation (HN) forces to take the eventual lead in combatting the insurgency. There is a clear strategic objective, however “choosing the right policy option (or way) to achieve the strategic objective is a critical consideration” [1]. This can clearly be understood through the Internal Defense and Strategy Model.  This model focuses on strategic concepts of balanced development, neutralization of the insurgent threat, security, and mobilization of resources, supported by the full scope of IOPs, to “prevent and/or eliminate lawlessness, subversion, and insurgency” [2].


Boko Haram is an insurgent group, based geographically in northeast Nigeria, which has an overall objective of establishing an Islamic enclave or independent state within Nigeria. After the foundation of the organization in 2002, the actual insurgency began in 2009 with increased extremism leading to violence against the central government. The Boko Haram insurgency is a perfect example of Martin Van Crevald’s theory, centered on the concept that warfare need not be considered a state versus state phenomenon, as non-state actors play an increasing and arguably dominant role in conflict. And “because the participants are not states, they will not be fighting for state-like reasons” [3]. This theory can be directly linked to Arthur Lykke’s ends, ways, and means concept, as non-state actors also apply these principles, though perhaps on a smaller scale than nation states. In addition to Crevald, the Fabian strategy of “wearing down one’s opponent over time - usually by an unrelenting campaign of skirmishes”, must be understood and tied to any grand strategy to counter an insurgency [4]. Foreign Internal Defense, Joint Publication 3-22, defines an insurgency is “the organized use of subversion and violence by a group or movement that seeks to overthrow or force change of a governing authority” [5]. This is critical in the analysis. Boko Haram seeks more than simple terror; it desires to establish wholesale change. While an insurgency can employ terrorist tactics, we limit ourselves if we follow a strictly counter-terrorism posture, and do not engage the opponent as an insurgency.

Why should the US care about Boko Haram? Because US security in Africa hinges on the stability of Nigeria. As the most populace African nation, Nigeria also boasts its largest economy, is one of the US’ largest sources of foreign oil, and, with AFRICOM being only a decade old, represents a potentially strong regional partner to ensure support for US interests and allied action on the continent.  “All of these factors place Nigeria at the forefront for the most strategically important allies in Africa” [6]. Energy security, tied directly to the economic IOP, is an extremely vital aspect of US national security. Without access to vital energy sources, the foundation of US national security would rest on unstable ground. This provides a direct tie-in to US concern in Nigeria. Additionally, human security equals stability, and “…internal conflicts and the weak states or ungoverned areas they create often serve as breeding grounds for terrorism so the connection between internal conflict and American security is direct” [7].

Insurgency vice Terrorism & IOP

Boko Haram must be treated as an insurgency to effectively deal with the problem. This means application of FID, which focuses on the four points of balanced development, neutralization, security, and mobilization. FID empowers the HN forces to act, with US forces in a supporting role vice leading action. In a cursory view, this reasoning may be clouded because the US declared Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) in 2013. While the group does employ terror tactics, it goes deeper. First, the crisis involves a goal of displacing the government with a religious state. Second, the issue is regional, affecting Cameroon, Niger, and Chad as well as Nigeria. Third, the conflict has displaced almost 2.4 million persons in Nigeria, and forced more than 180,000 Nigerians to live as refugees in neighboring countries [8]. This issue cannot be solved without the holistic approach presented by FID. Simply stated, “as evidenced by our myopic view of terrorism, we do not fully comprehend that our enemies are, in fact, conducting unconventional warfare” [9]. This holistic approach equates to grand strategy thinking.

Counterinsurgency involves “comprehensive civilian and military efforts taken to defeat an insurgency and to address any core grievances” [10]. A primary tool for accomplishing this is the integration FID with various IOP, involving “participation by civilian and military agencies of a government” to assist another sovereign [11]. This leads into the application of power across various domains. As a landlocked region (northeast Nigeria is bordered by Lake Chad, but it is too shallow for useful military means other than limited transport) the land domain focuses military IOP towards Boko Haram’s forces as the center of gravity. However the air and cyber domains play critical supporting roles, particularly tied to the intelligence realm in allowing US units to effectively provide information to Nigeria’s forces. These domains mutually support one another in matters such as training, logistics, intelligence, and combat operations [12].

How can we apply broad use of the various IOP to counter the Boko Haram insurgency? This is an important question because “an unstable, stagnant and conflict-driven Nigeria will be a threat to regional and global stability” [13]. Regarding the military IOP, the use of FID and support of HN forces vice independent action serves to increase the professionalism and capability of Nigeria’s security apparatus, while also allowing the country’s own forces to take the lead. This in turn can lead to more popular support for action, as it is seen not as outsider interference, but the government protecting its people. In the economic IOP, security leads to stability, and thereby a foundation is created to address corruption and allow for the government to safely implement policies without harassment or lack of focus. Nigeria can strengthen public institutions and services, leading straight to the diplomatic or political IOP, meaning US support, again, takes a background approach, allowing indigenous organizations to improve transparency and accountability. The information IOP, initially needed for intelligence to support US assisted action by the Nigerian government and its security forces, can then be tailored to long-term interaction, with more deeply rooted relationships and support. This “restarts” the loop, as military training and cooperation is a platform for improved diplomatic relations, which allows for better sharing of information and in turn more stable economic prospects for both Nigeria and the US as an energy consumer.

These are not new concepts, but ones that must be dusted off. Prior to the modern concern with COIN and the spread of insurgencies, British policy in the early 20th century already cemented four basic principles which are still applicable, noting the “the primacy of the civil power; the use of minimum force; the need for firm and timely action and the need for cooperation between the civil and military authorities” [14]. A close examination equates these ideas directly to FID and the integrated need for DIME IOPs to serve as the supporting pillars.


While the IDAD (Internal Defense and Development) strategy model is often viewed within FID as a preventative or pre-emptive measure, it’s well developed and broad structure, which willingly acknowledges a need for the spectrum of IOP and strategic goals to address a national objective, make it the best available tool to address Boko Haram or other insurgencies. This is due to its strategic nature of analysis.  At the heart of the matter, one must recall “both antagonists have virtually the same ultimate objective, which is the loyalty and support of the population of the country” [15]. Therefore using FID strategy, focusing on issues such as coordinated effort between the US and HN forces; enhanced intelligence; minimum force; and a government that acknowledges root causes, Nigeria, supported by the US, can effectively address the Boko Haram insurgency. This model, and its broad framework, can be adapted with circumstance driven reality in order to address other insurgent movements as well. Instead of recreating “new” processes, we should use those that are available and at hand.

End Notes

[1] Holcomb, James F. “Managing Strategic Risk”. In U.S. Army War College Guide to National Security Issues, edited by J. Boone Batholomees. Vol. 1, 67-77. Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2012, p. 68.

[2] Austin, Lloyd. Foreign Internal Defense, Joint Publication 3-22. Suffolk, VA: United States Joint Forces Command, Joint Warfighting Center, 2010, p. II-2.

[3] Bartholomees, J. Boone. "A Survey of the Theory of Strategy." In U.S. Army War College Guide to National Security Issues, edited by J. Boone Batholomees. Vol. 1, 13-43. Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2012, p. 27.

[4] Ibid, p. 31.

[5] Austin, Lloyd. Foreign Internal Defense, Joint Publication 3-22. Suffolk, VA: United States Joint Forces Command, Joint Warfighting Center, 2010, p. GL-8.

[6] Donovan, Daniel. “Nigeria Key to US Security in Africa.” Foreign Policy Blogs. Foreign Policy Association. (accessed February 21, 2016).

[7] Metz, Steven and Raymond Millen. Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in the 21st Century: Reconceptualizing Threat and Response. Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army Strategic Studies Institute, 2004, p. 11.

[8] Thomas-Greenfield, Linda. “Boko Haram and its Regional Impact.” Speech, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, February 9, 2016. (accessed February 22, 2016).

[9] Maxwell, David. “Unconventional Warfare Does Not Belong to Special Forces.” War on the Rocks, August 12, 2013. Washington, DC. (accessed February 22, 2016).

[10] Austin, Lloyd. Foreign Internal Defense, Joint Publication 3-22. Suffolk, VA: United States Joint Forces Command, Joint Warfighting Center, 2010, p. GL-7.

[11] Ibid.

[12]Metz, Steven and Raymond Millen. Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in the 21st Century: Reconceptualizing Threat and Response. Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army Strategic Studies Institute, 2004.

[13] Juma, Calestous. "Why Nigeria Matters to the World." Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Harvard Kennedy School, February 27, 2015. (accessed February 21, 2016).

[14] Beckett, Ian F. W. Modern Insurgencies and Counter-Insurgencies – Guerillas and Their Opponents Since 1750. London: Routledge, 2001, p. 44.

[15] Snow, Donald M. and Dennis M. Drew. Making Twenty-First Century Strategy: An Introduction to Modern National Security Processes and Problems. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Air University Press, 2006, p. 140.

About the Author(s)

Mr. Daniel E. Ward is a former US Coast Guard officer. His work experience includes maritime and riverine operations, protective services and security operations, and criminal investigations. He has spent several years in Latin America and the Middle East, and has extensive work experience training indigenous forces. He holds a BS in civil engineering, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Defense and Strategic Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso. The views presented are his own and do not represent the U.S. government, his employer, or an official position.



Fri, 04/01/2016 - 12:18pm


Whatever the merits of the US doctrine of FID or IDAD this article fails as it is Nigeria that decides on how it will approach its national problems, one of which is Boko Haram.

Nigeria has repeatedly been agnostic, if not hostile to external advice, training and even direct assistance - even more so when coming from the 'West'. I doubt a single Nigerian decision-maker would describe them as you do - 'Nigeria is a critical US ally in Africa'.

Yes Nigeria is a critical nation for Africa and the wider world, alas there are few signs that its government - under recent rulers - looks much beyond the region and thinks first & foremost about making money.

Have a look at the Forum thread, there is plenty there to support my view:

At the end of the day outside Nigeria and in the West Nigeria and its people will decide what happens. FID or IDAD are NOT on the agenda.


Thu, 03/31/2016 - 10:04pm

An interesting piece, though it ignores WHY past FID efforts in Nigeria (and other areas of West Africa) have largely failed. At the end of the day, FID seeks to bolster the existing order and leverage it to defeat destabilizing forces. However, in Nigeria and many other parts of Africa, the existing order IS the main source of that instability. National borders in most of Africa reflect the spheres of influence determined by a series of European agreements, most notably the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885. These agreements often disregarded existing ethnic, tribal, linguistic, and religious fault lines across Africa. In some particularly nefarious occasions, lines were drawn specifically to ensure weakened indigenous resistance to colonial rule. The post-colonial period saw many of these artificial boundaries codified, in turn forcing vastly dissimilar groups to co-habitate within the same borders.

Nigeria is a perfect example, as the Muslim-majority north has found itself bound to the Christian-majority south. While most of the northern states allow some measure of sharia law (itself a rather amorphous term), the south is much more prosperous (largely due to the presence of oil reserves) and secular. Boko Haram (and a number of non-affiliated Muslim groups, both Shia and Sunni) seeks to establish a separate Islamist republic separate from the Christian-majority south. The approach offered in this article is a continuation of the failed strategy of fighting destabilizing forces by reinforcing the very systems that cause the tension in the first place. Which also ignores the fact that the Nigerian Army has a horrendous human rights record and has been largely blamed for exacerbating and (to some extent) justifying the resistance of numerous Muslim groups in northern Nigeria.

My point is that FID has and will continue to fail in Nigeria as it is a strategy designed to prop up an artificial construct which is a primary cause of the original friction. We have seen this pattern play out repeatedly, such as in Mali and elsewhere. While not nearly as satisfying for the "whole of government" crowd, targeted operations at specific high value targets and other limited operations designed to "prune" and "contain" the threat are both more cost effective and avoids the risk of becoming embroiled in essentially un-winnable conflicts.


Thu, 03/31/2016 - 6:01pm

FID is the only option available to the US, there is no scope for independent action in Nigeria as the remoteness of AO and lack of significant targets (like C2 nodes etc) makes it a waste of time.
The current programme of training light infantry and Special Forces by the UK and US and assisting with ISR is the way forward.
The same would be useful in terms of the police and MOPOL as civil authority returns to the liberated areas
Almost as important though is reform of the Nigerian military in terms of standardisation, procurement, administration and logistics. The difficulty is assisting or even persuading the Nigerian government to begin this process, although the current government is much more receptive


Thu, 03/31/2016 - 4:14pm

Great idea, right up to the point of the US needing a willing partner in security cooperation and "a government that acknowledges root causes" of the conflict. Neither of these two conditions are currently met by the Government of Nigeria.