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The Nigerian government’s security impotence was detailed in a recently released US State Department report entitled “Country Reports on Terrorism 2010.” The report cited widespread corruption and a lack of capacity within Nigeria’s police and security forces, shortcomings which have made them unable to “detect and apprehend terrorists and criminals transiting the country’s borders.”
Furthermore, the report also described the Nigerian Navy as being incapable of effectively patrolling its coastal waters, thereby making Nigeria’s Niger Delta region and its offshore oil sites more vulnerable to attacks by both terrorists and criminals.
So, given the Nigerian government’s security weaknesses, it’s not surprising that Boko Haram has continuously rebuffed the Nigerian government’s peace overtures. In fact, the terror group has only intensified its terror campaign by exploiting its operational partnership with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al Shabab, Somalia’s Islamist terrorist group.
For years, Boko Haram’s ties to these two al-Qaeda-linked organizations have been strongly suspected. As one Nigerian military spokesperson recently said, the presence of AQIM in nearby African countries — like Mali, Niger, Algeria, Chad and Cameroon — makes it “very easy” for Boko Haram to establish links with al-Qaeda.
Yet, to be fair, Boko Haram hasn’t been shy about announcing its links to al-Qaeda. Days before it launched its June suicide attack on the Nigerian police headquarters, the terror group released a statement which read in part, “Our jihadists have arrived in Nigeria from Somalia where they received real training on warfare from our brethren who made that country ungovernable.”
It goes without saying that making Nigeria ungovernable would produce terrible consequences for Africa and beyond. One such dismal outcome was evidenced in reports uncovered by British intelligence in July 2011 of a plot by al-Qaeda to make Nigeria a launching pad for attacks on Europe.
Moreover, the United States also has much to fear from an emboldened Boko Haram, given Nigeria’s role as a major supplier of crude oil to the United States. That fear was raised recently by General Carter Ham, head of the US Africa Command, who recently said that Boko Haram’s relationship with AQIM and al Shabab would be “the most dangerous thing to happen not only to the Africans, but to us as well.”
In fact, so great is the Boko Haram threat that reports have surfaced that indicates the United States is contemplating launching drone attacks inside Nigeria against Boko Haram, something the US has already been doing against al Shabab in Somalia.
According to these reports, the US will utilize a network of military bases to rapidly launch major operations into Nigerian airspace from “strategically placed military bases in the trans-Sahara.”
Giving those reports further credence is that the United States already enjoys a strong security presence in that part of Africa. In 2005, the United States established and funded the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP), composed of governments in the pan-Sahel (Mauritania, Mali, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Burkina Faso) and trans-Sahara (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia).
Ironically, while the Nigerian government may be hesitant to approve such a military tactic, given its current stance toward Boko Haram, a new factor has emerged that may give it no choice but to acquiesce.
At the end of July, after much protest from the Nigerian government, Nigeria was removed from the US terror list as a country that harbors or sponsors terrorism against the United States and its allies. Nigeria had been placed on the list in January 2010 after Nigerian student Farouk Umar Farouk Abdulmuttallab attempted, but failed, to bomb a plane in Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009.
Now, if the Nigerian government fails to quickly and forcefully work toward excising Boko Haram, it may find itself quickly back on that ignominious list.
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