By William Tucker
Chief Correspondent for In Homeland Security
Nigeria’s Boko Haram insurgency has wracked the African nation for years and resulted in the deaths of 15,000 people and left a further 1.5 million homeless. The counterinsurgency campaign led by Abuja has been ineffectual to say the least, but has suffered from poor training, inadequate equipment and alleged corruption.
Newly elected president Muhammadu Buhari moved quickly in addressing the insurgency during his first few weeks in office. His first moves, however, were not directed at Boko Haram per se, rather he took on the military by firing several leaders and working with regional partners to establish a new multinational task force that is slated to become operational July 30.
While these initial moves by the new president are certainly impressive, and in many ways much needed, there are still some gaps that need to be addressed moving forward. Buhari’s recent trip to Washington addressed several of Nigeria’s needs, but it was clear that the focus was on containing the long-running Boko Haram insurgency. In fact, Buhari claimed that once the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) came online, Boko Haram would be defeated in a mere 18 months.
Buhari painted the broad strokes of what he expected the new MNJTF to accomplish by stating, “We are going to deny them recruitment. We are going to deny them free movement across borders. We are going to deny them training. We are going to deny them receiving reinforcements in terms of equipment.” Though stated simply, these are several issues that have plagued the Nigerian military since embarking on its mission to defeat the insurgency. But with assistance from Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin, the government might have a better chance of handling the situation than it has over the past few years. That said, Buhari traveled to the U.S. for several reasons chief among them was securing support from Washington. The U.S. has been keen to assist the Nigerians in handling the Boko Haram onslaught, however concerns over human rights and corruption have stymied any progress. With the reforms instituted by Buhari, along with forming the new task force, may help in alleviating Washington’s concerns. Further adding to the urgency to deal with Boko Haram is the groups pledge of loyalty to the Islamic State. The spread of the Islamic State to several areas in North Africa doesn’t bode well for stability or security in the region as we’ve seen in Libya, the Sinai, and Tunisia.
Though Buhari’s claims of an 18-month campaign seem incredulous, his statement is more about demonstrating that he has formulated a plan and is taking action that would gather support to his cause. Thursday’s suicide bombing in Cameroon – one of the Task Force members – shows the urgency needed in containing the insurgency.
Boko Haram has a demonstrated ability to move across borders in the region at will and doesn’t seem to have any issues resupplying. This, coupled with violence elsewhere in the region, places added emphasis on tackling the problem. Washington is well aware of the need to move quickly, however past concerns over Nigerian military misconduct has demonstrably slowed international assistance. With Buhari’s recent initiatives that may change, but the fight against this insurgency will not be easy and is unlikely to wrap up in 18 months.