Analysis: Boko Haram loses ground, but remains in the fight

Nigerien soldiers hold up a Boko Haram flag that they had seized in the recently retaken town of Damasak, Nigeria

Nigerian soldiers display Boko Haram’s flag. Photograph from Reuters.

Nigeria and its allies appear to be making headway in the fight against Boko Haram. However, these initial victories may not mean that the region is closer to ending its fight against violent radical Islam.

At the beginning of the month, forces from Chad and Niger joined Nigeria fighting against Boko Haram, and the African Union (AU) supported the development of an 8,000-strong regional counterterrorism force. Last week, the Nigerian army stated that it had pushed Boko Haram from all but three local government areas in Nigeria’s northeast including Abadam, Kala-Balge, and Gwoza. The country’s national security spokesman claimed that the military had begun the “final onslaught” against the terrorist group. Earlier in the year, the State Department-designated terrorist group controlled vast swathes of northeastern Nigeria, including areas of Yobe, Borno, and Adamawa States.

President Goodluck Jonathan is also predicting the group’s demise; he told the BBC that “They are getting weaker and weaker by the day … I’m very hopeful that it will not take us more than a month to recover the old territories that hitherto have been in [Boko Haram’s] hands.”

While pushing Boko Haram from its physical bases and recovering land is important, Nigeria is far from free of the violence generated by the jihadist group. Boko Haram has continued to launch attacks within the country and across the border even as it weathers assaults by multi-national forces. On Sunday March 15, the group attacked the Chadian town of Djargagoroum. The morning attack was repelled, but one man was killed and at least two houses were burned to the ground.

On Wednesday, the group attacked the Nigerian border town of Gamboru, killing 11 civilians. The jihadists were reportedly driven out by Cameroonian forces who responded to their gunfire. Gamboru was taken over by the terrorist outfit last August after it was attacked several times. The besieged border town remained under Boko Haram’s thumb until early February, when the group was ousted by a combination of forces from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and local vigilante outfits.

The recent attack in Gamboru shows that even once expelled from a town, Boko Haram is often not done with it. On Saturday, Chadian forces, who had been stationed across the border in Fotokol, moved into Gamboru to push and keep out any remaining Boko Haram fighters in the area.

In his interview with the BBC, Jonathan revealed that Boko Haram’s ascendancy caught him by surprise. “We never expected that [Boko Haram] will build up that kind of capacity. We under-rated their external influence,” he said. The group’s rise has contributed to weaknesses in Jonathan’s control and effectiveness as a leader, toughening the current presidential campaign for the incumbent.

Active since 2009, the jihadist group’s insurgency has claimed thousands of lives in numerous terrorist attacks and raids across the region. In part, the group’s success is attributed to the questionable capability of Nigeria’s forces and the government’s failure to adequately confront the group from the beginning of the conflict. The inability of Nigerian forces to save the hundreds of girls kidnapped in Chibok nearly a year ago pushed the country’s deficiencies on to the global stage. Wary of repeating past military coups, Nigeria’s army has been kept relatively small in proportion to the country’s massive population. One Nigerian analyst aptly noted “the military and security forces were designed to protect the head of state and his government from coups, not protect national security. That continues to paralyze our response to security issues. It is the fundamental problem.”

Joining the Islamic State

In early March, Boko Haram publicly declared its allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the emir of the Islamic State. Shortly thereafter, spokesman for the Islamic State Abu Muhammad al Adnani accepted the pledge, noting that recruits to his group had the option to travel to West Africa to fight if they could not get to Iraq or Syria. The announcements underlined what were already suspected ties between the two groups. In early February, NCTC Director Nicholas Rasmussen highlighted “the increased intercommunication between Boko Haram and other terrorist groups in the northern part of, the northwestern part of Africa, and even with [the Islamic State].”

While the long-term implications of Boko Haram’s new partnership with the Islamic State are not clear, significant improvements in its media messaging have already emerged. Early videos released by the group were grainy and out of focus, often showing leader Abu Bakr Shekau, flanked by his “soldiers,” standing in front of a row of vehicles and simply ranting in Hausa or Arabic. Recent videos are slick and polished affairs utilizing graphics and videos from battle, layered on top of jihadist music and spoken hadiths. The evolution of Boko Haram’s media strategy may simply indicate that the group is learning from its Middle Eastern cousins.

Boko Haram may receive other forms of assistance through its official connections to the Islamic State, including cash, weapons, and, perhaps more importantly, fresh manpower. The new injection of support will likely help Boko Haram maintain a some sort of operational capacity in the region, in spite of the increase in cooperative military action against them. The group may not hold vast swaths of land at the moment, but their ability to build bombs and launch deadly attacks is likely to continue for some time.



Tags: , ,


  • blert says:

    To my way of thinking, “fresh agitators” and “platoon level leadership” will be the primary mechanisms for el Baghdadi’s meddling.

    Near as one can tell, Kaddafi ‘pre-trained’ countless sub-Sahel Blacks in the ways of oppression and Islam. He, in his day, imported vast, vast, numbers of such souls — either as agents of his regime or as stoop labor for Libya’s economy. ( Like the Saudi citizens, Libyans universally felt too superior to perform harsh manual labor… That’s what contract labor was for. )

    And, as recounted everywhere, a sea of small arms has exploded across the Saharan desert — and some pretty heavy stuff, too.

    This reality apes the wicked plot of “Zardoz” (1974) For those with long memories, this morality tale (high fiction) tells of a twisted society that literally spews small arms across the landscape so that the average souls will gun each other down while the elites live in the lap of luxury.

    [ Zardoz was a play on Basil Zaharoff the ultra-notorious weaponeer of the late 19th Century through early 20th Century era — think Maxim machine guns. In the fictive tale Zaharoff’s antics are woven back across the Wizard of Oz tale, totally confusing the modern audience as to the reference.]

    Reality is now about to imitate art: for a wholesale bloodletting must surely follow broadcast weapons and fanatical intentions.

    Ones hope must lie with the gritty destruction that the Sahara wrecks on all modernity. There’s a real reason why Arabs stayed with horse and sword for so long: the desert positively destroys mechanisms.

    As for Boko Haram, itself:

    Boko — pidgin English for BOOKS

    Haram — pidgin Arabic for HARRAM — as in Islamically forbidden.

    Consequently we are witnessing a quasi-religious war against learning. (!)

    It’s also consequential to the Peace Corps. Societies, as a whole, can’t stand, can’t bear to accept, that their cultural fundamentals are horrifically wrong… generally.

    In the specific case at hand, you can bet your last dollar that the REAL source of the conflict is book learning for GIRLS. In EVERY society where this equality of education has been launched — you have a fulsome cultural rebellion. For you are attacking the traditional roles: man and wife.

    The do-gooders of the West can’t fathom any of this – – and so persist in theirs extreme folly.

    They skip past even Western cultural history: boys were ALWAYS educated before girls. The shift towards super-educating women has only occurred in the last thirty-years… in the West.

    Collapsing birth rates are the inevitable consequence. For societies that still suffer tremendous infant mortality, the idea that the girls priorities should be anything other than motherhood brings every man to arms.

    It’s not for nothing that the very FIRST priority for Boko Haram is bride raiding, thence to knock them all up.

    Naturally, this biological imperative gets no proper exposition in the Western press. Political Correctness prohibits the publication of any facts that contradict the do-gooder’s script.

    The path to >>> is paved with best of intentions.

  • Adrian says:

    They are also pretty close to the Islamic State controlled areas in Libya.

    Would it be possible that if they lose the battle in Nigeria, they retreat to Libya and support the fight there instead?

  • Will says:

    Interesting analysis. Given the Nigerian military’s apparent inability to cope with the reality of a dedicated insurgency in its back yard (and the understandable hesitation from Chad and Niger to enter a war of occupation in their neighbor’s turf,) this does not appear to be a problem with a short-term solution.

    As we’ve seen with COIN operations in OEF and OIF, brute force simply won’t suffice – the Chadians can kick the snot out of BH day in and day out, but when they leave, nothing is preventing a resurgence – rinse, repeat. Areas like northern Nigeria provide an excellent sanctuary for jihadists; doubly so since Western foreign policy seems to largely call for ignoring whatever barbarities people inflict upon each other in Africa. It seems to me like the main threat of this BH / IS fealty declaration is that it provides what could become a safe haven and training zone for extremists taking a “break” from fighting in the Middle East; now that they have a generally un-governed foothold on a new continent (not counting their apparent Libyan inroads) they’ll find it easier to do what insurgents do best: retreat from heavy pressure and return when international attention flags.

  • mike merlo says:

    another tragically laughable piece of propaganda. Boko Haram is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. The regional Governments are welcome to frame these latest developments however they ‘see’ fit but the fact remains Boko Haram ain’t goin no where. Geography, time, resources & manpower are on Boko Haram’s side. Its just a matter of time before northern Chad falls under the sway of the Jihadist if it already hasn’t. Its become beyond obvious that the present US Administration has neither the ‘stomach,’ ‘heart,’ moxie or inclination to bring the necessary resources to bear to annihilate Boko Haram or any other Islamic Extremist/Militant organization for that matter. Since the ascension of the present US Administration the only witnessable & honest fact(s) has been the expansion of the Islamic Internationale.


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram