Captured Boko Haram men report growing morale problems. Many members oppose the current strategy of carrying out bombing attacks against any target that can be reached. Until late 2015 the Boko Haram mainly attacked the security forces, government officials, non-Moslems and non-religious schools. All those targets are now much better protected and Boko Haram leadership goes after targets it can reach rather than suffer a lot of failed attacks. Now the victims tend to be Moslem women and children and that has caused more Boko Haram men to criticize their leadership (a dangerous move) or desert (also dangerous but less so).
Going after the corrupt government and non-Moslems attracted a lot of recruits, and still does. But over a year of defeats and much improved security around acceptable targets has left Boko Haram with few alternatives to targeting whatever victims they could hit This often includes market places or refugee camps and a disproportionate number of victims are women and children. The raiding and looting is one thing, because even Holy Warriors have to live. But killing Moslem women and children has always been a hard sell for Islamic terrorist leaders and is usually a warning sign that a particular Islamic terrorist group is on its way out. That’s because this mindless mayhem means it can no longer get enough new recruits to replace losses and also turns helpful civilian populations into hostile ones. This is what happened to al Qaeda in Iraq during 2005-7 and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan a little later. It happened to al Shabaab in Somalia about the same time and to Islamic terrorists in Egypt and Algeria during the 1990s.
This pattern keeps repeating itself because the leadership of Islamic terror groups tends to be the most fanatic and ruthless members who also have some leadership skills. But the bulk of their followers are less psychotic. Islamic terrorist leaders do not believe in history, only what they interpret as the will of God.
Another source of plunging morale is how Boko Haram recruits a lot of its current suicide bombers. These are often kidnapped teenage girls who are brainwashed into believing that God wants them to be suicide bombers and that this will get them right into the afterlife paradise. Those who resist this indoctrination are killed, often in front of other young women. It is one thing for a young Moslem man or woman volunteering to be a suicide bomber, but this brutal method of coercing and using girls who remind many young men of their sisters or cousins has backfired within Boko Haram.
There are enough (from a few hundred to a few thousand) very active Boko Haram still roaming the countryside in the northeast to prevent most of the nearly three million refugees from returning home and reviving the local economy. Tracking down and killing or capturing the remaining Boko Haram is a time-consuming, tedious and dangerous process. The non-refugee population up there is usually guarded by local self-defense volunteers. These groups are a good source of intel but are also believed to be killing locals suspected to being Boko Haram supporters. Many Moslems in the northeast still believe in the idea of Boko Haram (Islamic zealots eliminating the corruption and non-Moslems from the northeast) but tend to keep quiet about it. These supporters comprise less than ten percent of the population but are essential sources of information and other support for the remaining Islamic terrorists out there. It is getting ugly, as it usually does in situations like this. As long as people keep hearing of Boko Haram raids and bombings the bad behavior will persist.
Boko Haram is definitely not doing well, and there are pictures to prove it. The air force and the United States have been carrying out intense aerial surveillance in northeast Nigeria (especially Borno state) for over a year and can find no evidence of large Boko Haram camps and not a lot of smaller ones. This is why the government, in late 2015, declared Boko Haram defeated. Technically, that was true. Boko Haram had lost most of the territory it controlled in northeast Nigeria, lost all its large bases and suffered heavy personnel losses. Boko Haram leadership knew that they had to demonstrate that the Islamic terrorist organization was still around and the best way to do that was to carry out spectacular attacks that killed a lot of people. That got attention in the media, which is what Islamic terrorist groups need for recruiting and fund raising. As diminished as Boko Haram was it could still kill people and stay in the news. That embarrassed the government and made it clear that defeating Boko Haram was not enough. Near total destruction was required and that would take longer. This was especially true as long as the widespread corruption found all over Nigeria persisted. The government admits that Boko Haram will remain a threat in the northeast through the rest of 2016. And the implication was that the mess up there could linger for years.
Many Nigerians see corruption as being the major problem with the military ineffectiveness against Boko Haram. When this corruption problem is actually measured Nigeria finds that, while it is not the most corrupt nation in the world (that would be a tie between North Korea and Somalia) Nigeria is among the 40 most corrupt nations on the planet. Nigeria is 136 on the list of 175 nations. In 2013 Nigeria was 144, so there has been some improvement. Corruption in this Transparency International Corruption Perception Index is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The three most corrupt nations have a rating of 8 and the least corrupt (New Zealand and Denmark) are 91. African nations are the most corrupt, followed by Middle Eastern ones.
February 24, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) soldiers defeated a Boko Haram attack on a refugee camp using three suicide bombers and over fifty gunmen. The suicide bombers were stopped before they could cause a lot of casualties and 23 of the gunmen were shot dead before the rest fled. One soldier was killed by gunfire.
In the south, off the coast, the navy regained control of an offshore oil well supply ship that pirates had just taken. The pirates managed to escape, taking two captives (a Russian and a Nigerian) with them to hold for ransom. Since 2013 Nigeria has replaced Somalia as the scene of most annual pirate attacks.
February 20, 2016: In the south, off the coast, the navy recaptured an oil tanker that pirates had just taken. One pirate was killed by the armed sailors and six arrested. Two of the pirates managed to escape, taking two captives (a Pakistani and an Indian) with them to hold for ransom.
February 19, 2016: In neighboring Cameroon four Boko Haram suicide bombers made two attacks. The one on a market left 22 dead and over a hundred wounded. The second attack, on a school, failed when the two bombers were detected and responded by detonating their explosives and killing only themselves.
February 17, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) troops found and raided a mobile marketplace operated by Boko Haram. Sort of a thieves market where the Islamic terrorists sold off stolen goods they did not need. This includes a lot of consumer goods, livestock and slaves. This raid left over twenty Boko Haram dead and several others captured. Troops also found and liberated 195 Boko Haram captives. This is the third such Boko Haram market the security forces have found and shut down so far in February. These mobile markets are great in theory but only work if those (mainly criminals or corrupt officials) invited to come and buy or trade keep quiet. That does not happen and worse, the security forces are always looking for these markets and have rapid reaction forces ready to move before the mobile markets can move or disperse. Sometimes the markets are not mobile but traditional rural markets that have been temporarily taken over by Boko Haram and local criminals. While there are obviously some local criminals who are fine with this there are just too many civilians who are not and willing to inform the security forces.
February 14, 2016: Somalia admitted that Boko Haram had some members who were trained in Somalia by al Shabaab. It was not made clear if this was still going on. Probably not because Al Shabaab and Boko Haram have gone in different directions. Boko Haram has aligned itself with ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) while al Shabaab remains loyal to ISIL arch-enemy al Qaeda. Moreover in early 2015 defectors and captured al Shabaab members reported that that group’s leaders were dismayed that other Islamic terror groups like ISIL in Syria and Boko Haram in Nigeria are crowding al Shabaab out of the media. Al Shabaab needs that media attention for fund raising and recruiting, both of which were (and still are) in decline for other reasons as well. Al Shabaab is seen as less attractive to Somali expatriates seeking to become Islamic terrorists. In part that’s because al Shabaab made itself very unpopular inside Somalia because of how the mistreated civilians, many of whom had kin in the West. This unpopularity made it easier for the UN and AU to get a peacekeeping force in and build a new Somali Army and government.
February 11, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) troops from Cameroon, in cooperation with Nigeria, crossed the border and spent three days fighting a large number of Boko Haram who had set up a number of supply, training and support (bomb making and suicide bomber indoctrination) operations 10-20 kilometers from the border. Over 160 Boko Haram members were killed, as well as two Cameroon soldiers. Several hundred captives (Nigerian and Cameroonian) were freed (after giving what information they could about Boko Haram operations). Many of these Boko Haram had been operating inside Cameroon but were chased out. The Cameroon security forces knew that the surviving Islamic terrorists would come back in if they got the chance but after exchanging intelligence with the Nigeria the Nigerian government allowed Cameroon to send in its troops to deal this this group. Despite this operation Boko Haram still gets into Cameroon, usually to carry out suicide bomb attacks on civilians. These attacks are not as frequent as they used to be but enough to convince Cameroon to keep a large force of troops and police in the thinly populated north.
February 9, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) three Boko Haram female suicide bombers were sent into a refugee camp to kill as many people as they could. Two of the bombers did so, killing 58 and wounding even more. The third suicide bomber hesitated and was arrested. She provided information that prevented other Boko Haram suicide bombings.