Over the weekend, Boko Haram launched a series of attacks in the latest part of its vicious campaign to take control of Nigeria and build its caliphate. Concentrated in the northeast, a number of villages came under fire within hours of an official visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry to Lagos.
Around 8 pm on Saturday evening, Boko Haram executed several attacks on villages in the Michika Local Government Area in eastern Adamawa State. Targeting Mbororo, Shahu, Liddle, Garta, Kamale and Ghumci, the insurgents arrived on motorcycles and in vans and then went house to house slaughtering villagers. The Islamists also set fire to many homes after looting them. It is not clear how many people were killed or how many were able to escape into the mountains.
Shortly after midnight on Sunday, Boko Haram launched a three-pronged attack on Borno State’s largest city and capital, Maiduguri. Nigerian security forces engaged in fierce fighting with the terrorists, keeping them from taking the city. The attackers reportedly tried to take control of Maiduguri’s airport, which in addition to hosting civilian flights services Nigeria’s air force.
The exchanges of gunfire reportedly stopped at around 3:30 a.m. as the jihadists retreated. Boko Haram fighters subsequently returned around 5:40 a.m., re-engaging with Nigerian forces. The air force then deployed jets around 11 a.m. to push back the renewed jihadist offensive. The day before the battle, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan had visited Maiduguri on campaign stop ahead of presidential elections on February 14. With the retreat of Boko Haram, a city-wide curfew was lifted today. However, analysts have noted that hardships are likely not over yet for residents of Maiduguri as the city has strategic value for the terrorists.
A short while later on Sunday morning, insurgents from Boko Haram also attacked and took control of the town of Monguno, 80 miles northeast of the state capital. Monguno has served as a buffer between Bokon Haram strongholds in the north, and Maiduguri.
The 243 Battalion of the Nigerian army, comprised of about 1,400 solders stationed in Monguno, was overwhelmed by the insurgents. Military sources reported to Sahara Reporters after the battle that “We still don’t know what has happened to them [Nigerian soldiers], but we know that Boko Haram now controls the barracks and Monguno town.” Today, Nigerian forces are reportedly fighting to take back control of Monguno through air strikes.
About 24 miles southeast of Maiduguri, Boko Haram also hit Konduga on Sunday. However, the Nigerian military claimed that it repelled the attack.
As northeastern towns were being targeted on Sunday, American Secretary of State John Kerry touched down in Lagos to meet with President Jonathan and his rival candidate Muhammadu Buhar to express support for the upcoming elections. Kerry noted “The fact is that one of the best ways to fight back against Boko Haram and similar groups is by protecting the peaceful, credible, and transparent elections that are essential to any thriving democracy, and certainly, essential to the largest democracy in Africa. It’s imperative that these elections happen on time as scheduled, and that they are an improvement over past elections, and they need to set a new standard for this democracy.”
In a press briefing after the meetings, Secretary Kerry spoke of the United States’ “deeply engaged” relationship with Nigeria. He noted that the US is “helping Nigeria to increase the capability of its military; to improve its counter-incident explosive detection and civil-military operations capacity; and to carry out responsible counterterrorism operations.” He also pointed to additional law enforcement assistance and ongoing crisis management training.
Interestingly, Secretary Kerry highlighted that the United States’ most recent assistance in the fight against Boko Haram was not in fact given to Nigeria. According to the Secretary of State, “Most recently, we’ve worked with Nigeria’s neighbors Cameroon, Chad, and Niger to develop institutional and tactical capabilities that will increase the joint efforts between our countries in order to be more effective.”
The New York Times reported ahead of Kerry’s visit that relations were “so strained” between American military trainers and the Nigerian military that “the Pentagon often bypasses the Nigerians altogether, choosing to work instead with security officials in the neighboring countries of Chad, Cameroon and Niger.” The report also noted that the US does not include raw data in intelligence shared with Nigeria due to concerns about Boko Haram’s infiltration of the government. In 2014, the US also prevented Israel from reselling American-made helicopters to Nigeria. The US was acting on concerns regarding the Nigerian military’s maintenance capabilities and potentially inhumane treatment of civilians.
As Nigeria’s battle with Boko Haram pushes forward, its success may well be dependent upon the support it receives from its regional allies and other international partners, including the United States. Given both the Nigerian military’s poor track record against the terrorist outfit, local security forces are in need international support.