In mid-January, the new Chinese Main Battle Tank VT-4 went through its baptism of fire in Nigeria. The Nigerian military conducted an operation against Boko Haram, also known as Islamic State in West Africa.
Boko Haram is a terrorist group formed by radical Sunni Muslims active in the states of West Africa, e.g. Mali, Mauretania, and Nigeria. The group has been active since 2002 and focuses on the establishment of a state following Sharia law in the region. Members of the group were affiliated with the Al-Qaeda and recognize themselves as a part of the Islamic State as the
Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP). Since 2015 the militants of Boko Haram have held the Sambisa Forest region, which has remained their stronghold and serves as a base to conduct attacks on the Nigerian Army.
On 7 January, the Nigerian Army launched Operation “Tuka Takaibango”, which was announced, in response to a massive Boko Haram attack on the town of Yobe. Officials decided to pull up a variety of heavy equipment, including SH-5 105mm self-propelled howitzers and Chinese VT-4 MBTs in order to fight off the terrorist militia. The VT-4 MBTs were delivered to the Nigerians back in April 2020, by China’s Norinco Company as a part of a contract worth $152 million.
As Operation “Tuka Takaibango” unfolded, the Nigerian army suffered heavy losses with ISWAP laying ambushes in the region. In the span of two days of clashes, more than 50 Nigerian soldiers were killed, 30 died in an ISWAP IED ambush on the 17th of January, and at least 20 more were killed the day after. During the battle of Gujba 28, ISWAP militants were killed by the Nigerian forces.
Operation “Tuka Takaibango” has brought limited success for the Nigerians, with their losses quickly piling up as a result of guerilla tactics put into use by ISWAP. It seems that the use of the new Chinese MBTs has been of limited value in the fighting, as the clashes between the army and the terrorists are rather quick, hit and run actions. The deployment of the VT-4’s can be seen as a show of force for the Nigerian public rather than a legitimate way of dealing with Boko Haram. It remains to be seen if the Nigerian military will be able to capitalise on their equipment advantage and launch operations which successfully bring the capabilities of their new weapons to bear.