West Africa is becoming increasingly destabilized as Boko Haram continues to kill and displace thousands of people, Niger and Chad confident they can defeat them
On March 9, Niger and Chad began a coordinated ground and aerial attack against Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria after the group declared an alliance with the Islamic State.
Boko Haram is based in northeast Nigeria but has launched repeated attacks in Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon.
With some 10,000 fighters, Abubakar Shekau, who leads the group, and his militants have killed more than 13,000 people in the region and displaced hundreds of thousands more.
“Very early this morning, troops from Niger and Chad began an offensive against Boko Haram … in the area of Bosso and near to Diffa,” said an unnamed government official from Niger.
The ground assault included hundreds of vehicles ranging from tanks to support trucks and ambulances.
Although Cameroon, Chad and Niger have had troops deployed since last month in counterinsurgency operations, it wasn’t having much of an impact on the activities of the group. The governments of all three countries believe that with a much larger combined offensive, they should be able to clear Boko Haram from the surrounding region.
According to an Agence France Press report, “much of the focus has been on Chad’s well-trained army, who have experience in tackling al-Qaida-linked extremists in Mali alongside French forces”.
A spokesman for Nigeria’s military, Chris Olukolade, said the combined attack by Niger and Chad are “complementary to the ongoing push against the terrorists”.
“The mission of routing the terrorists from Nigeria’s territory is being conducted from various fronts in and out of Nigeria and is achieving expected results so far.”
The attack might also draw in forces from other African countries as the African Union on March 6 suggested that an additional force of 10,000 soldiers should be created to fight Boko Haram.
Although the west has not given any indication it will contribute to fighting the militants, now that Boko Haram is effectively an ISIS proxy, the possibility of provoking a western military response is very real.
According to the AFP, “there have been growing indications that Boko Haram was looking to formally align itself, starting last year when Shekau declared the captured town of Gwoza, in Borno state, part of a caliphate”.
Yan St-Pierre, a counterterrorism researcher who works for Modern Security Consulting Group in Berlin, thinks that Boko Haram’s alliance with ISIS might be evidence that the military campaign against them is working and forcing the group to look for outside help.
“This might be a way to send a message to the troops, to strengthen morale or attract more followers, particularly in Boko Haram’s case,” said Yan St-Pierre.
St-Pierre believes that Boko Haram has deep connections with ISIS and has been receiving weapons from them via contacts in Libya, which smuggles for the Boko Haram through the lawless Sahel region.
“Most of the contact Boko Haram groups or factions have had with ISIS have been along that axis, and Sudan.”