The President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari, in an interview on December 24 at the BBC, said that his country “technically” won the war against the extremists of Boko Haram, but specified that the threat of suicide attacks is still persistent. To reassure the population, the Nigerian leader also announced that Islamists now are not able to arrange “conventional attacks against civilians and communication centers in the north of the country”.
Just four days after, the reassurances of Buharihave been discredited by a series of attacks that produced at least one hundred victims right in the northeast, where militias affiliated to the Islamic State (IS) struck Maiduguri and Magdali.
Note, that the attacks came on the eve of December 31, the deadline to eradicate the jihadists set by Nigerian president, who last March had been elected thanks to a program focused on the fight against the Islamists.
On the other hand, it is undeniable that the new course of Buhari, contrary to what happened during the presidency of his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, has achieved significant results in the fight against Boko Haram, succeeding in regaining different parts of the territory controlled by the jihadist and reducing raids on many towns and villages.
Since when, last May 29, Buhari took office as President, the MNJTF (‘combined’ multinational formation, comprising units, mostly military, from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria), has recorded several successes in the fight against Boko Haram.
In various operations, the MNJTF killed several prominent members of the jihadi group and helped to stop partially the media coordination between Boko Haram and the Islamic State, to which the Nigerian organization swore allegiance last March in a public message posted online.
In the months immediately following, Boko Haram had been recorded a significant strengthening of its capacity for communication, thanks to elaborate techniques used by Daesh.
In recent weeks, however, the video of Boko Haram have become less frequent, while the actual number of successful attacks by the group in December 2015 does not coincide with those announced by the IS, in the daily war bulletin carried by jihadist radio al-Bayan, which broadcasts from the Islamic State’s stronghold of Mosul.
Another success is the fact that, for the first time in many years, Maiduguri, the main town in the northeast of Nigeria, is no longer at risk of large-scale attacks.
Nevertheless, the attacks of December28, shows that there are still serious and ongoing threats to the safety of the city, especially in the peripheral areas. Moreover, the latent threat to its territorial integrity with a possible acquisition of the IS, as happened in 2014 in Mosul, has been greatly reduced.
The massive MNJTF’smilitary action has not yet etched in an effective manner on the offensive potential of the group, that has revised its operating strategy more on the attacks that the conquest of parts of the territory.
In this way, the terrorists have increased kamikazeactions hitting also in neighboring Niger, Cameroon and Chad. In addition, the Islamists can count on a large number of young women suicide bombers, some of which could have voted herself voluntarily to martyrdom, but we canconsidered that the majority have been forced to sacrifice herself for the cause of the Caliphate.
The African Islamic State’scell has undoubtedly demonstrated exceptional tactical versatility by moving the center of the offensive from the struggle on the ground to terrorism, making the Islamist organization even more difficult to defeat and increasingly bloody. This is also confirmed by the recent report of the Australian think tank ‘Institute for Economics and Peace’, under which the Nigerian militant group is the world’s bloodiest terrorist organization.
To highlight, the first African jihadist group to implement this approach were the Somali al-Shabaab militants, which after suffering heavy defeats by AMISOM and lost control of much of the southern territories. Therefore, al-Shabaab have intensified their terrorist activity launching bloody attacks, such as those Westgate Mall in Nairobi and Garissa North-Eastern University, in addition to keep hitting vulnerable targets in Mogadishu.
The current phase of difficulties facing Boko Haram is producing a situation in many ways similar, and that jeopardizes the security of all countries in the region. Not to mention, that have turned into a wilaya of the Islamic State could lead the organization to a further and progressive internationalization of its operations, prompting it to step up attacks and kidnappings towards objectives and Western citizens.
The jihadist group can still adopt new tactics and strategies, as well as a plan to come back stronger than before and the Nigerian security forces must be able to anticipate his moves.
Therefore, despite the effectiveness of the strategy of counter insurgency implemented by Buhari, the challenge is long term and Boko Haram is still far from being defeated.