NIGERIA — Weather and logistics have slowed military progress against Boko Haram in Nigeria and neighboring countries. And suicide bombings that are increasingly commonplace may well continue regardless of military progress, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari told Al Jazeera English news.
“It is known that Nigeria is the main battleground, and we have agreed among ourselves to dedicate a number of troops in certain places by the end of last month [September] so that with the coming of the dry season … there will be a spontaneous move against Boko Haram,” Buhari said in an Oct. 17 interview on Al Jazeera’s “UpFront” broadcast, posted online.
“What we cannot guarantee really is a question of using IEDs, improvised explosive devices in public places,” he said. “That operation by Boko Haram may continue beyond the time limit that we gave [Dec. 31]. But the articulated attacks by Boko Haram on townships, on military installations, will certainly stop.”
Nigerian military officials said in September a special force of 8,700 soldiers from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin was making headway against the terrorists, but Buhari told Al Jazeera the military had been stymied by the rainy season. Buhari didn’t give a specific timeline of delays, but Nigeria’s rainy season typically begins in the southern coastal areas of the country in February or March, moves north and extends through September in the northeast region where Boko Haram has been most active.
U.S. President Obama is sending to Cameroon as many as 300 troops to conduct airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations to support the multinational forces, he announced Oct. 14, indicating that 90 of those troops had already deployed. The soldiers are armed only for self-defense, Obama said.
Boko Haram militants attacked Chadian soldiers in an Oct. 6 predawn attack, killing 11 and wounding 13, Chad’s army chief told French press agency AFP. Chad killed 17 Boko Haram fighters in the raid, the army chief said.
Multinational forces thwarted a potential Boko Haram suicide bombing Oct. 18 outside a main military based in Maiduguri, shooting the suspected female bomber dead and detonating explosives concealed in her handbag, AFP reported.
Boko Haram has killed more than a hundred citizens in the region in October alone, utilizing suicide bombers in most attacks, it has been widely reported. Among the latest attacks:
— On Oct. 15 and 16, at least 34 people were killed in a wave of suicide bombings outside Maiduguri, AFP reported.
— On Oct. 16, two female suicide bombers killed at least 11 people in Adamawa state in northeast Nigeria, AFP reported.
— On Oct. 11, five suicide bombers killed 33 people in Chad and wounded 51 others, Reuters reported.
— On Oct. 4, suicide bombings in Niger killed a soldier and five civilians near the Nigerian border, AFP reported.
— On Oct. 2, at least 18 people were killed and 41 injured in twin bombings on the outskirts of Abuja, the nation’s capital, according to AFP.
Boko Haram has killed nearly 1,400 people since Buhari took office, most of them by suicide bombings. In the Al Jazeera interview, Buhari said the rise in suicide bombings is indicative of Boko Haram’s weakness. The jihadists are mostly confined to the Sambisa Forrest in Borno state and are no longer able to wipe out entire villages, he said.
“On the ground physically things are getting better,” Buhari told Al Jazeera. “Boko Haram is reduced now to using IEDs, improvised explosive devices.”
The international community focused on Boko Haram in April 2014, when the terrorists kidnapped more than 300 teenage schoolgirls in Chibok. As many as 75 of the girls escaped, but about 220 remain missing and are feared sold as Muslim sex slaves or used as suicide bombers.
Buhari told Al Jazeera news he knows where any survivors would likely be held, and would be willing to negotiate for the girls’ release if Boko Haram meets certain criteria, including proving the girls are still alive.
In efforts to abolish Christianity and establish Sharia law, Boko Haram had proclaimed Islamic caliphates or Sharia-based governments covering more than 20,000 square miles in northeast Nigeria before Buhari was elected. Nigeria’s military managed to recapture the land and establish sufficient peace to conduct nationwide elections, which had been delayed due to violence.
Boko Haram originally targeted Christians but has also killed moderate Muslims, government officials and civilians, killing as many as 20,000 people since 2009, and displacing 2.5 million from their homes, according to estimates. The group has pledged allegiance to the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
In 2014 alone, 42 percent of all attacks by Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria were on Christian communities, while 35.4 percent targeted random civilians, according to the Jubilee Campaign for global religious freedom. Other attacks in 2014 targeted Muslim communities (6.8 percent), the government (10.9 percent), schools (4.1 percent), and media and medical personnel (0.5 percent), according to the Jubilee Campaign 2015 Report on Nigeria.
— by Diana Chandler | BP