Nigeria: Nowhere To Hide

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December 10, 2015: Boko Haram is largely confined to northeastern Nigeria, which is one reason the world does not hear much about it. Attacks in neighboring Chad, Niger and Cameroon continue but are met with much faster and damaging retaliation. Boko Haram shows no interest in going international. President Buhari, in power since March, still has the support of most Nigerians when it comes to defeating Boko Haram. Buhari admits that Boko Haram related violence has left over 20,000 dead since 2009 and forced nearly three million people from their homes. Then there is the billions of dollars in damage to the economy and the Islamic terrorist campaign against non-Islamic education. This has shut down schools for over a million students and driven nearly 20,000 teachers from their schools and many from the Moslem northeast. Thousands of Christians have fled as well since Boko Haram often targets non-Moslems first. As a retired general and a Moslem Buhari is seen as the best hope to halt the Islamic terror. Buhari has, unlike his predecessor, encouraged the West to send any assistance they can. Buhari has ordered the military to not interfere with foreign help. This has been a problem in the past, in part because of resentment at having to depend on foreign help but also because of fear that foreign troops working inside Nigeria would report incidents of corruption they witnessed. Buhari welcomes this.

In the northeast troops resumed raids and sweeps into the Sambisa Forest. This is largely a search for Boko Haram camps and any of the Islamic terrorists who were not able to flee. Boko Haram has been driven out of parts of the forest several times but keep returning. The Boko Haram got better at building and defending these camps. Approaching troops noted that camps now include more bunkers built with layers of logs to provide better protection from aerial bombs or artillery shells. Air force pilots have gotten a lot of practice attacking targets in the Sambisa Forest and survivors of these attacks realize that more robust bunkers are a matter of life or death. When given enough time Boko Haram will also surround new camps with landmines and traps. This is a growing problem because good (and often reused) camp sites are increasingly dangerous to everyone (Boko Haram, soldiers, local hunters) because fleeing Boko Haram do not remove landmines and booby traps and troops do not find all of them either. So Boko Haram have to be careful reusing old camp sites because of the forgotten landmines. The government is now using artillery (guns and rockets) to hit some camp sites spotted from the air. Troops eventually visit most of these sites to search for useful information to aid in finding more Boko Haram camps and individuals. Some of the camps, which contain kidnapped civilians and stolen livestock, are only attacked by troops and over a thousand captives freed and thousands of cattle rounded up.

Cameroon has 9,000 troops in its northern region adjacent to Nigeria. About a quarter of these troops spend most of their time searching for and fighting Boko Haram. All this has shut down a lot of Boko Haram activity on both sides of the border. As a result about ten percent of the 40,000 Nigerians who had fled to Cameroon over the last few years have returned to Nigeria and resumed their lives, mainly as farmers. Further north in Niger the Boko Haram there have been a lot more aggressive, often crossing the border at night to raid a village and then fleeing with their loot back to Nigeria before dawn. Niger is working to get the Nigerians to coordinate operations along the border to catch these raiders. Meanwhile Nigeria has agreed to take 500 Boko Haram captured in Niger to ease the crowding in Niger prisons. Next door in Chad Boko Haram has been raiding the islands in Lake Chad causing nearly 100,000 civilians to flee.

Many of the recent successes are the result of a coordinated international effort to deal with Boko Haram. The MNJTF Multi-National Joint Task Force) has over 7,000 troops from Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Benin and Nigeria. Chad has withheld its contingent (over a thousand troops) because they are fully engaged on the Chad side of the border. Since late November, with the rainy season over, MNJTF has been moving against Boko Haram and the initial result is for the Islamic terrorists to flee and raid for loot as they go. But with coordinated troops operating on both sides of the borders Boko Haram is finding that there is nowhere to hide.

Boko Haram has other, less immediate, problems. As much as ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) is demonized for its savagery it is not the most prolific killer among current terrorist groups. That dishonor falls to Boko Haram. Yet the most current rankings of work terrorist activity have Nigeria as the third most terrorized nation. In 2014 Nigeria was in fourth place with nearly 6,700 people dead from Islamic terrorist violence. In 2015 Iraq and Afghanistan are first and second. Pakistan and Syria are fourth and fifth. The other most terrorized nations in Africa were Somalia and Libya at eighth and ninth place. Boko Haram, a Nigerian group that models itself on the Taliban and envies the greater media attention ISIL receives has killed more people in the last few years than ISIL. Meanwhile Boko Haram was largely ignored, as most mayhem in Africa tends to be. ISIL got the headlines and that goes to show you the power of the media.

December 8, 2015: On the outskirts of the Sambisa Forest troops set up an ambush on a long secret Boko Haram escape route through the forest. Along came a large group of Boko Haram fleeing an attack inside the forest and the troops opened fire. About a hundred Islamic terrorists were killed and many of those who fled into the bush were wounded. Troops then pursued many of those who fled while the dead were searched for more information on Boko Haram operations and secrets.

December 7, 2015: Five polish sailors kidnapped from their ship off the coast in late November were freed. Apparently the shipping company paid a ransom but no one would admit that. The “Pirate Coast” (where pirates are most active) is now off West Africa in the Gulf of Guinea and not off Somalia in northeast Africa. Most of the pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are Nigerians and they attacked 31 ships and briefly hijacked nine of them in 2013 and did even more damage in 2014 and 2015. The Nigerian pirates have no safe place to keep captured ships while a large ransom is negotiated for kidnapped crew. Instead they rob ships they attack and quickly leave. In some cases they arrange to hijack much of the cargo, usually at sea, by transferring to another ship at night and then scampering away before the navy or police show up. Sometimes a few of the crew (usually officers) are kidnapped for ransom. This is risky because the security forces are always looking for kidnap victims, especially foreign ones.

December 5, 2015: In the capital (Abuja) police have arrested over 30 people suspected of being Boko Haram supporters. Boko Haram has been trying to establish a presence in the capital so they can carry out bombings and other attacks there. So far the Islamic terrorists have not had a lot of success because most of the people in the capital are quite hostile to Boko Haram.

In the north (a Chadian island in Lake Chad) four Boko Haram suicide bombers attacked a market leaving 19 dead and wounded 130. The bombers appear to have been teenage girls. Using young girls has become a favorite Boko Haram tactic because it is easier to get past security.

December 2, 2015: In the southeast (Anambra state) ten died (eight civilians and two police) as local separatists conducted violent demonstrations. The separatist (pro-Biafra) organization responsible accuses the police of kidnapping and questioning separatists using torture, then killing them and dumping the bodies. The government denies everything but the police have been known to do this sort of thing. This is something the government is reluctant to investigate.  MASSOB (Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra) represents the separatists and has been increasingly active since the 1990s. Back in the 1960s the Igbo (or Ibo) people of southeastern Nigeria attempted to establish the separate state of Biafra. Over a million died before the separatist movement was put down. Down, but not gone. MASSOB arose in the late 1990s, trying to revive the separatist movement. Since then over a thousand MASSOB members have been killed, and nearly as many imprisoned, while the government insists that Biafra is gone forever. But as details of the extent of government corruption during the last few decades come out, Biafra again looks like something worth fighting for.   

November 29, 2015: In the northeast (Adamawa State) Boko Haram attacked a town defended by soldiers and local militia. Most of the soldiers fled but the militia stood and fought and army reinforcements arrived in time to drive the Islamic terrorists away.

November 26, 2015: Some 63 kilometers off the coast a Polish freighter was attacked by pirates who kidnapped five crew members as well as carrying off portable valuables. Most (eleven) of the crew got to the safe room that the pirates could not enter and called for help.

In the northeast, across the border in Cameroon local troops launched a three day offensive against Boko Haram there and killed over a hundred of them including a senior leader. Nigerian troops were sent to the border near the Cameroonian operation to kill or capture any Boko Haram who fled back into Nigeria. At the end of this campaign nearly a thousand civilian captives had been freed.

November 22, 2015: In the northeast (Borno state) a Boko Haram suicide bomber detonated her explosives among a group of refugees (mostly women and children) killing eight and wounding many more. The bomber was a teenage girl. This was one of five similar attacks in Borno State and across the border in Cameroon that killed twelve, including the five bombers. 

 

 

 

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