There is heavy media attention to the Nigerian air force’s tragic, accidental bombing of a camp for internally displaced persons near Rann, in northeast Nigeria. Though details are hardly definitive, it appears that the attack resulted from the mistaken identification of the camp as a center of Boko Haram. (Recently, Boko Haram has been active in the area.) As is usually the case when such accidents happen in northeast Nigeria, the numbers killed are not definitively known, but appear to be in the fifty to one hundred range. The media reports that the number of dead is likely to increase because of the difficulty of evacuating the wounded from an isolated area and because of the inadequacy of medical facilities in the camp. The dead include humanitarian workers for the Red Cross and Doctors without Borders. Both organizations have issued scathing public statements.
No cover-up appears to be underway. The security services have promised an investigation, and President Muhammadu Buhari has issued an apology with condolences to the victims and their families.
There are anecdotes of other such episodes whereby innocent civilians have been killed by the Nigerian security services, either by mistake or because they are caught in the middle of a fire fight with Boko Haram. In the past, unlike in this case, there has been little official transparency. There have long been complaints about the inadequacy of security service tactical intelligence about Boko Haram activity. Concern about accidents such as Rann has played a role in the reluctance by the United States to authorize Nigerian purchase of certain types of aircraft, especially those which require extensive pilot training which the Nigerian air force has not received. U.S. experience in Afghanistan and Iraq has been that accidents like Rann have the potential for alienating the local population. Indeed, Nigerian security service abuses in the past have been identified as a significant driver of Boko Haram recruitment.