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The Islamic State in Africa
Did Nigeria's Military Win a Victory Against Boko Haram?

In what would be a rare show of operational competence, Nigerian military claimed that a few hundred members of Boko Haram gave themselves up in the country’s northeast—and that it has killed a man posing as the group’s leader. The BBC reports:

The Nigerian military has said that more than 260 Boko Haram militants have surrendered in north-eastern Nigeria.

A spokesman also said that the military had killed the man posing as the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau. […] Mohammed Bashir is said to have appeared in the group’s videos but is thought to be an imposter.

Boko Haram has suffered heavy losses in recent weeks as the Nigerian military battled the group close to its hometown of Maiduguri in the north east.

The military said that 135 Boko Haram members surrendered with their weapons in Biu, Borno State, on Tuesday – and that 133 others surrendered elsewhere in north-eastern Nigeria and were currently being interrogated.

The BBC seems to show the appropriate degree of skepticism, however, when it writes: “Although it is impossible to independently verify, the military is seeing it as a turning point, our correspondent adds.”

As John Campbell of the Council of Foreign Relations pointed out recently in his invaluable blog “Africa in Transition,” all reports about Boko Haram originate from the Nigerian government, and it is thus difficult to get a handle on just how much territory the militants control, or just how grim it is on the ground. However, Campbell highlights a recent interview with the Archbishop of Maidiguri, who, from the midst of the conflict, gives a harrowing account of its toll and the government’s incompetence.

According to the Archbishop, this is what has been going on in Maiduguri:

“The last one month has seen the intensification and aggressive devastation of the Boko Haram activities in northern, central and southern parts of the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri. The brutality and callousness with which people are killed can only be compared to that of the ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Many of our people are being forced out of their ancestral homes, villages and towns.

“Right now, thousands are living in caves on the mountains, some in the forest; the few who were able to escape are being absorbed by friends and relatives in Maiduguri, Mubi and Yola. Thousands have managed to escape into Cameroun and are living under very difficult conditions of lack of food, shelter and medication.”

The government’s response has been entirely inadequate:

[…] “What is very worrying and discouraging in the whole scenario, is the attitude of the military whom we mortgage and depend on for security. In the face of these attacks, they flee and ask civilians to do the same. There is no doubt that the morale of the security men and women is at its lowest ebb in the North-eastern part of Nigeria.”

The Archbishop reports that the terrorists were extremely well armed, with such advanced weaponry as rocket launchers, anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns, and armored tanks. Campbell muses that the armaments are more likely to have come from a local source: “Given their size, it is unlikely that Boko Haram procured [the weapons and vehicles] from Libya or some other place outside Nigeria. More likely is that they come from Nigerian armories, presumably stolen or supplied by Boko Haram sympathizers.”

With ISIS getting all the attention, people are apt to forget about the parallel group trying to set up its own Islamic State in Africa. As the Archbishop put it, Boko Haram is “a local terrorist group with an International face and connection”—and the ambition to match. The Nigerian military seems to have publicized a flattering story that conveniently coincides with President Goodluck Jonathan’s speech before the United Nations Security Council, in which he requested international help for the fight against the Islamists. But those who witness Boko Haram’s predations, and their government’s longterm fecklessness, cannot be greatly cheered by it.

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  • Anthony

    “Boko Haram is local terrorist group with an International face and connections – and the ambition to match.” Does the Nigerian State have the will, commitment, and dexterity to match local terror using mask (ostensibly) of Islam to destabilize portions of its North Eastern State? Actions (to remove said predations) not words will answer the aforementioned question for terrorized Nigerian citizens.

    • Corlyss

      My impression of the Nigerian State is that it is a social club of the president’s friendsbuddiespals. I doubt it has any heft at all.

  • Corlyss

    How could such large operations be unverified in this age of massive surveillance from the sky if those operations were really conducted??????

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