Despite government advances, Boko Haram continues to plague Nigeria

The Nigerian military may have begun to turn a corner in its fight against Boko Haram as security forces have recently regained a number of towns in Adamawa state. But despite losing ground, Boko Haram continues to wage jihad in northeastern Nigeria in its efforts to establish a caliphate.

Last week, the terrorist group abducted over 20 females, most of them young girls, in Lassa in Borno state. Boko Haram had initially tried to take over the town on Nov. 30, but its fighters were repelled by local militias. On Dec. 3, the terrorists returned to Lassa, however, taking the town and the girls.

Two days earlier, on Dec. 1, suspected Boko Haram attacks were carried out in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno, and in Damaturu, the capital of neighboring Yobe state. Two female suicide bombers detonated in a market in Maiduguri, killing six people; the same market had also been hit the previous week by jihadist suicide bombers. Boko Haram also reportedly hit Konduga, southeast of Maiduguri, on Dec. 1; the Nigerian army stopped the attack, killing 70 Boko Haram fighters. In Yobe state, Boko Haram fighters pushing toward the center of Damaturu launched an assault on a police checkpoint, and were repelled only after battling for several hours with the Nigerian army and civilian fighters.

On Dec. 4, Boko Haram conducted a pair of attacks in Gombe state, targeting the towns of Bajoga and Ashaka. When Nigerian forces prevented the group from taking Bajoga, the jihadist fighters moved in a 20-vehicle convoy toward Ashaka and its French-owned Lafarge cement factory. In the ensuing assault, Boko Haram members reportedly stole medical supplies and vehicles from the factory, which suggests that the attack may have been more of a foray to replenish supplies than an attempt to seize territory.

Recent Nigerian military successes

Although Boko Haram’s offensive has continued, the Nigerian military seems to have improved its performance against the jihadist group in recent weeks. On Dec. 3, the Nigerian Air Force bombarded insurgents regrouping in Garin Itace, around 20 kilometers outside of the Yobe state capital, Damaturu. And in Borno state that same day, Nigerian troops destroyed an explosives-laden vehicle meant for a suicide operation in Konduga.

On Dec. 5, the military announced that it had cleared and fully reclaimed Mubi in Adamawa. The town had been conquered by Boko Haram at the end of October.

This week, the military reported that in addition to retaking Mubi, it has cleared and regained control of the Gombi, Maiha, and Hong local government areas of Adamawa state. During the offensive, Nigerian troops reportedly recovered documents and sketches of towns that Boko Haram was planning to target. It is not clear exactly when government forces made these advances. The military also arrested a Boko Haram videographer, along with other members of the group, in Adamawa state on Dec. 8.

On Dec. 9, the Nigerian army announced that it had killed 27 members of Boko Haram while fighting with the terrorists in the Balmo, Lame, and Hildi forests of northeastern Nigeria.

Continuing challenges for security forces

Despite these successes, security issues continue to gnaw at the Nigerian government and security forces. On the night of Dec. 6, gunmen reportedly helped around 200 prisoners escape from a prison in Minna in central Nigeria. Boko Haram’s participation in the incident has not been confirmed, but the group has been blamed for previous prison breaks.

Last week, the Nigerian government canceled a planned US training exercise for Nigerian troops, claiming that needed equipment was deployed for operational use. In November, however, the Nigerian ambassador to the US had criticized the “scope, nature and content” of American counterinsurgency support, complaining that Washington had not provided the weapons needed for a “killer punch” against Boko Haram.

A senior Nigerian military officer recently told the Anadolu Agency that a high-level Nigerian delegation led by the air force chief had returned from Russia, where they had negotiated a deal to purchase fighter jets. According to the officer, “We had to turn to Russia for arms since the U.S. refuses to sell us arms anymore.” The US reportedly called the Nigerian decision “regrettable.” The exact status and parameters of the new deal are unclear; the Russian news agency TASS reported that the two countries signed a “memorandum on interaction and cooperation between their security councils” on Dec. 3.

Apparently undeterred by recently stepped-up Nigerian military operations, Boko Haram has continued to launch offensives and take new towns. The terrorist group does not appear to be dissuaded as it loses ground in other spaces. The security picture in northeast Nigeria may soon resemble a game of whack-a-mole for the military, as Boko Haram gets hit in one town only to pop up in another.

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