Over 100 Civilians Killed in Accidental Nigerian Airstrike
Media and intelligence reports indicate that a Nigerian Air Force aircraft, likely either a Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet or an Aero L-39 Albatross light trainer/attack jet has been involved in a fratricide incident with “over 100 dead” according to first information.
The incident occurred Tuesday Jan. 17, when an airstrike by an undisclosed number and type of Nigerian military aircraft, likely only one aircraft, mistakenly targeted a “refugee camp” along the Nigerian-Cameroon border.
Reports indicate that aid workers have also been wounded in the attack. The border area is on the eastern edge of Nigeria in central Africa. According to a report by the BBC, “The Red Cross says six of its workers are confirmed dead.” The BBC report also cited casualty numbers lower than other news outlets, with a reported “50 killed and over 100 wounded”. The international aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) or “Doctors Without Borders” was named as the source for the casualty reports but did not specifically name MSF volunteers as victims in the incident. Médecins Sans Frontières staff and physicians have been involved in a number of fratricide or “friendly fire” incidents in the region during the last decade.
While no official reports have been released other than statements of regret from Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari over the incident, Nigerian Army spokesman Major-General Lucky Irabor told media the jet’s pilot mistakenly believed he was attacking insurgents.
Nigeria’s tactical aircraft are currently inventoried as the Alpha Jet and the Aero L-39, two light jet trainer/attack aircraft that usually lack modern, sophisticated precision targeting and navigation equipment. While Nigeria also fields a version of the MiG-21 built in China called the Chengdu F-7 Airguard, that aircraft has limited air-to-ground precision targeting capability with unguided rockets and bombs.
The original target for the airstrike was reported as Boko Haram terrorists, said Major-General Lucky Irabor, theater commander for counterinsurgency operations in northeast Nigeria. Major-General Irabor added that, “It was too early to say if a tactical error was made” according to a statement he made to the The Telegraph.
Airstrikes in the region are a near-daily occurrence. With a large displaced refugee population in the area incidents of fratricide have been recorded before. This incident is remarkable not only for the tragic number of victims but also as the first time Nigeria has accepted some level of responsibility for the incident. It further emphasizes the risks of operating attack aircraft lacking precision targeting capabilities in close proximity to civilian populations.
Image credit: Kenneth Iwelumo