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Nigerian Massacre Shows Just How Tough the War on Terror Remains


According to reports, the Nigerian military massacred hundreds of civilians in an orgy of bloodletting in a village called Baga on the shores of Lake Chad. Adam Nossiter has the grisly details in the NYT:

Days later, the survivors’ faces tensed at the memory of the grim evening: soldiers dousing thatched-roof homes with gasoline, setting them on fire and shooting residents when they tried to flee. As the village went up in smoke, one said, a soldier threw a child back into the flames.

The Nigerian military denies anything happened. We don’t want to get out ahead of the facts here, but there is one thing worth pointing out: the countries where violent jihadis are at work today include some very poorly governed and badly run places. Nigeria’s soldiers may be poorly trained, poorly paid, poorly motivated and poorly led, but then so are most other government employees in this very large and deeply dysfunctional land.

The failures of the Nigerian state (political and developmental) helped create an environment in which movements like Boko Haram flourish. Those failures will be cast into even starker relief as the conflict deepens.

In one sense, this is the genius of Boko Haram’s strategy. It aims to make the Nigerian government even less effective as it highlights the ham-fistedness and poor discipline of its security forces. The weak police network makes Boko Haram members hard to capture or surveil; the poor organization of the military makes events like this one inevitable.

The government can do nothing about Boko Haram but watch it spread—or it can fight and watch it spread anyway.

It’s a decent strategy for Boko Haram, though it may not ever bring it to the point that it can take control of large chunks of Nigeria’s territory. The US counterterrorism effort in the near future will focus on many poorly-run places like Nigeria, and if there is a secret way to turn pig’s-ear governments into silk-purse states, we haven’t discovered it yet. Buckle up for a long and gruesome ride.

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  • Vadim Pashkov

    I am inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours — whereas all the testing says not really.”


    • Tom

      What all the testing says is that poor people don;t do as well as rich people.

  • Luke Lea

    “if there is a secret way to turn pig’s-ear governments into silk-purse states, we haven’t discovered it yet.”

    Shouldn’t we be exploring that question in a more serious way? Or is it too hot to handle?

    • Fred

      The Europeans tried to civilize people in Africa and the Middle East for two centuries in the 18th and 19th centuries. They obviously failed miserably. I doubt we could do any better. About all we can do is let them slaughter each other and try to contain it as best we can.

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