A recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) has highlighted that the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has finally acknowledged its role in a tragic airstrike on Kwatiri, a village in Nasarawa. The incident, which occurred in January 2023, resulted in the loss of at least 27 lives, as reported by TheCable.
According to the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), the airstrike took place after herders went to retrieve 1,250 impounded cows from the Benue livestock guards. However, a day after the incident, Governor Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa stated that the explosion in Kwatiri was not caused by an NAF aircraft. He mentioned that investigations indicated no air force plane had flown over the area and suggested that the bombing might have been conducted by an unidentified drone.
Nearly six months later, the HRW report reveals that the NAF has provided limited information regarding the incident. The human rights organization emphasizes that the military’s unacceptable delay in taking responsibility for the loss of civilian lives only exacerbates the tragedy of the attack. The report further calls on the NAF to offer financial compensation to the victims and their bereaved families.
In response to an inquiry from Human Rights Watch, the Nigerian Air Force admitted, for the first time, to carrying out the airstrike. It stated that the operation was part of Operation Whirl Stroke, a joint military, police, and Department of State Security initiative aimed at addressing security challenges in and around Nasarawa state. However, the air force provided no specific details about the airstrike, claiming it was in response to suspected terrorist activities.
The HRW report quotes a letter from Air Commodore D. D. Pwajok, representing the Chief of Air Staff, which acknowledges the NAF’s involvement in the strike. The letter states that the airstrike was carried out based on credible intelligence and in collaboration with other security forces and agencies in Nasarawa state. However, it fails to address key questions raised by the incident, such as the process of assessing and verifying the identified threat, the investigation and verification of the targets’ identities, and whether any precautions were taken to avoid or minimize harm to civilians.
The lack of specific information raises concerns about whether the airstrike was conducted solely based on suspicion. The letter concludes by affirming the Nigerian Air Force’s commitment to upholding human rights and expressing openness to further discussions on the matter.
The HRW report also highlights that since 2017, over 300 people have reportedly been killed in airstrikes conducted by the Nigerian Air Force, which claimed to be targeting bandits or Boko Haram terrorists.