Boko Haram seeks to ‘remain and expand’ in West Africa

After pledging allegiance to the Islamic State this past March, the Nigerian jihadist group known as Boko Haram has increased the frequency of its attacks, which range from suicide bombings at markets to frontal assaults of Nigerian military bases.  In addition, it is expanding its operations to neighboring countries such as Niger, Chad, Benin, and Cameroon, after they established a coalition meant to defeat them.

In the latest attack, the jihadists overran a base in Yola, located in western Nigeria close to the Cameroonian border.  Reports state that soldiers fled and only a vigilante-type response from locals prevented the jihadists from taking the neighboring town, who nevertheless managed to drive off with a Russian T-72 tank. 107 soldiers are also presumed missing, which would represent a huge propaganda victory if they emerge as captured by Boko Haram.

Other operations carried out recently included village raids and abductions of teenage girls in Niger along with suicide bombings in northern Cameroon.  Both operations took place near the borders with Nigeria, which highlights the lack of an effective government military presence, as Boko Haram moves at will in and out of the country.

President Muhammadu Buhari was elected this past March in part because of his pledge to defeat the jihadists by December, which of course is now untenable.  Along with the implacable insurgency, allegations of corruption by members of the previous administration that many perceive as score-settling have diminished his political capital among Nigerians, who are feeling the effects of the oil price crash.

While the Nigerian army reels from the recent losses, the US Treasury Department is freezing the assets of top Boko Haram commanders Muhammad Nur, who represented the jihadists in talks with the Nigerian government and is suspected of being involved in the 2011 UN compound bombing in Abuja, and Mustafa Chad, who is also suspected of directing their activities in the northern portion of Nigeria they control.

As Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyyah (Boko Haram’s nomenclature under IS, ‘West Africa Province’) seeks to apply the Islamic State’s slogan ‘remaining and expanding’ across western Africa the need to contain and ultimately defeat them becomes more urgent, otherwise their destabilization of Nigeria and its neighbors, terrorizing of the population, and operating with impunity will only increase.