Monday, January 12, 2015

It’s Just Africa: Boko Haram Raids a Multinational Military Base

In October of last year, my colleague Colin wrote with guarded optimism about the ceasefire between the Nigerian military and the terrorist group, Boko Haram, questioning whether this news was actually too good to be true. In the months following that announcement, we’ve come to see that our cynicism was unfortunately well placed.

In November, Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau released a video in which he denied any claims made by the Nigerian government about the outcome of ceasefire, explicitly stating that the 200 kidnapped schoolgirls from Chibok had converted to Islam and been married off.  This video dealt what could been seen as the final blow to the legitimacy of the statements coming from President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. Criticisms of this administration grow more vocal and more numerous, as analysts say that the only solution to Boko Haram’s attempted takeover of the Nigerian state is a military solution. 

Boko Haram will stop at nothing in its advance through and out of Nigeria, and appeasement will certainly not end the violent rampages. If the Nigerian military were to pull back and effectively cede control of the territory the terrorist group already controls, it would only serve as incentive for the group to attack more towns and regions and expand its control.

Rumors that morale has been slipping in the Nigerian military are confirmed by reports that the soldiers are fleeing in the face of Boko Haram’s advance, leaving military hardware and other resources behind. These supplies have fallen into the hands of the insurgents each time, increasing the threat against the Nigerian state. The violence of Boko Haram reached its apex last week in the town of Baga, when on January 3rd, the Islamists launched a raid on a multinational military base in the last remaining stronghold in Borno state. Residents in Baga reported that the Nigerian military barely put up a fight against the insurgents before abandoning the military base on January 4th and leaving the residents to fend for themselves.

Baga is located near the border with Chad and is home to a military base that had been partly staffed with military forces from Niger, Chad, and Cameroon. The attack came from the north, west and southern sides of town, leaving the only fully open escape route from Baga through the waters of Lake Chad to a nearby island. Government officials in Borno reported that more than 2,000 people had been killed in the attack, roughly the same number of people Boko Haram killed in all of 2014. Approximately 20,000 people have been displaced and the town of Baga effectively burned to the ground.

Nigeria has called for a multinational task force to help repel Boko Haram, but Niger and Chad have both withdrawn their forces in the face of the Baga attack. Niger’s government has stated that while it is determined to work with its neighbors to repel Boko Haram, it will not send back troops unless the Nigerian military successfully recaptured Baga from terrorist control. The inherent problem is that Nigeria’s military alone has proven again and again that it is not strong enough to independently repel the terrorist group and maintain territorial integrity.

The resistance of Niger, Cameroon and Chad to contribute to a joint military offensive against the Boko Haram almost guarantees that the group’s offensive will spill out of Nigeria’s borders and move into their states. In late December, Boko Haram launched its offensive into the northern region of Cameroon, taking control of one town and attacking five others. Given the group’s mission to establish an Islamic Caliphate in the region, it will continue its attacks as long as resources hold out.

At the very least, our suspicions are confirmed that despite the group’s previous promises, Boko Haram will never bring peace to the region. Their brutality extends to peoples of all religions and nationalities – not even Muslims in the region are safe. In the latest video, the insurgents define as infidels all those persons who don’t subscribe to Boko Haram’s twisted and extreme brand of Sharia and promise that “killing, slaughtering, destruction and bombings will be [their] religious duty everywhere [they] invade.”

Nigeria’s general elections are coming up next month, and Nigeria’s national election commission has already decided not to postpone the elections. Successful elections will depend on the ability of the Nigerian military to repel Boko Haram in the next month, retake the northeast states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, and ensure that voters in all regions can make it to the polls. As it stands, it would be unexpected to see civilians in the region controlled by Boko Haram to turn out and vote in a democratic election, as the terrorist group rejects democracy as well as the Nigerian state. Boko Haram’s current campaign of attacks will lead to low voter turnout or closed polls in the northeast states, potentially skewing votes in President Jonathan’s favor. This outcome also risks a violent, post-election reaction from the opposition All Progressives Congress party, which draws more support from the Muslim-dominated north.

Unless the Nigerian military’s effectiveness increases, there doesn’t seem to be peace on the horizon, and the upcoming elections only spell further instability and increased attacks from Boko Haram.

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