Monday, August 3, 2015

Progress against Boko Haram includes liberated villages and captives - but challenges remain ahead

Last night the Nigerian army reported that it had liberated 178 hostages from Boko Haram. Of these, 101 were children, 67 women, and the rest men.

As far as I can tell, none of the liberated were among the 219 girls who where kidnapped in April 2014 that are Boko Haram's most well-known victims thanks to the Bring Back Our Girls campaign joined by celebrities and "regular people" around the world.

However, after pretty lame efforts against Boko Haram through the end of 2014 that enabled Boko Haram to control territory in northeast Nigeria the size of Belgium, Nigeria launched a counter attack in January 2015 (as Goodluck Jonathan was approaching the presidential election) that has contained and reduced the territory controlled by Boko Haram and has liberated a number of captives. 

In April 2015, Amnesty International estimated that some 2,000 women and girls had been abducted by Boko Haram since the start of 2014. The counterattack has managed to liberate many of these captives. In addition to the liberation achieved yesterday, for example, nearly 700 women and girls were liberated in a week in May.  

This set of maps shows that Boko Haram's area of control has shrunk from a Belgium-sized area in February 2015 to the Sambisa Forest in late April: 

However, the fact that Boko Haram's area of control has shrunk does not mean that it is in full retreat.  As described last week, Islamist terrorist groups in Africa respond to repression with metastasis and adapting tactics. Boko Haram has adjusted to the Nigerian army's success in retaking territory with bombings, including suicide bombings, in Nigeria as well as Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Two maps from the Economist show fatalities by Boko Haram from July 2009-January 2015 (on the left) and from January-July 2015 (on the right). The attacks in 2015 vs. pre-2015 are contained to a smaller area in Nigeria, but there are still many attacks, and more of them seem to be across the border. 

Yesterday in Cotonou (capital of Benin), President Buhari repeated his promise to defeat Boko Haram by the end of the year with the help of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) launched last week. Thus far, "Nigeria’s army ... is finding counter-insurgency far more difficult than merely liberating captured towns." To be successful, the task force will need to adapt as quickly as Boko Haram.

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