Analysts reported on 16 November that Nigerian-based militant group Boko Haram has significantly scaled back attacks in Cameroon in recent months, suggesting that a regional security force is gaining ground against the militants.
According to the International Crisis Group (ICG), the Islamist movement, which controlled an area in northeastern Nigeria last year and raided Cameroon and other neighbours, including Niger, in a bid to expand its “caliphate,” has since suffered a number of defeats. One of the report’s authors, Hans de Maria Heungoup, disclosed that “we’ve seen a dizzying downwards spiral in the number of attacks suicide bombings.” Two years ago, attacks were happening on an almost daily basis, however since September that number has fallen to between six and eight a month. The study indicated that “(Boko Haram) has suffered heavy losses and seen its conventional capacities reduced,” partly thanks to last year’ formation of a 10,000-strong regional force with troops from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. According to the report, up to 1,000 fighters with heavy weaponry and armoured vehicles joined strikes in Cameroon’s Far North region in 2014 – 2015, however attacks have now focused on the northernmost tip of the region, where fighters have continued to control part of the fishing industry of Lake Chad.
The ICG also noted that recruitment in Cameroon has also faltered, warning however that forced enlistment remains a risk. Citing interviews with the locals, the study disclosed that up to 4,000 Cameroonians are though to have joined the group and some were given sign-on bonuses of up to US $2,000 and a motorbike, adding that those who proved their loyalty by killed their parents often enjoyed quick promotion. Analysts have disclosed that the faction around the Lake Chad Basin represents the stronger branch of the group, which is loyal to the so-called Islamic State (IS) group and which is led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, while another faction, which is led by Abubakar Shekau, is based further south in Nigeria’s Sambisa forest.
United States President Barack Obama informed Congress on Wednesday that he will deploy up to 300 personnel to Cameroon for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations against Boko Haram insurgents.
In a letter that was released by the White House, President Obama disclosed that ninety personnel have already been deployed, which marks a modest but significant escalation of US involvement in the fight against the terrorist group, which earlier this year aligned itself with the Islamic State (IS) group. In making Wednesday’s announcement, the White House stressed that personnel will not take part in combat operations and would be armed only for self-defense. According to White House press secretary Josh Earnest, they are being sent under an arrangement with the Cameroonian government to conduct airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations in the region. US officials have disclosed that the focus will still be on a regional coalition that has tried to keep a once regional Muslim anti-colonial movement from metastasizing into a regional jihadist threat. In the statement, the president indicated that the mission will last “until their support is no longer needed.”
While Washington has largely shied away from engaging its vast military assets to combat Boko Haram, the White House decision comes as Boko Haram steadily expands operations beyond its traditional base in northern Nigeria, crossing into neighboring Cameroon and Niger.
Military officials reported on Monday that two female suicide bombers suspected of belonging to the Boko Haram militant group blew themselves up on Monday near a mosque in Cameroon’s Far North province.
While officials have disclosed that it was not immediately clear if the explosions caused other fatalities, sources are reporting that Boko Haram militants are likely to be behind the latest attack.
Meanwhile in Senegal, officials disclosed on Monday that they have arrested five people suspected of having links to Boko Haram – a development that could mark a significant expansion of the militant group’s operations. According to a senior justice ministry official, the five were arrested last month in the suburbs of Senegal’s capital city Dakar and in the central town of Kaolak, more than 2,500 km (1,500 miles) from the militant’s base in northeastern Nigeria. The official has disclosed that “we believe those arrested have ties with Boko Haram,” adding that a judge charged them on Friday with alleged relations with a terrorism organization, financing of terrorism and money laundering.
According to security and regional sources, Boko Haram militants on Friday seized control of a town in the far north of Cameroon, which lies on the border with Nigeria.
A security source confirmed Friday that the militants “…now control Kerawa.” The information was also confirmed by another source close to the regional authorities, who indicated that an unspecified number of civilians had been killed in the assault. Local officials reported Friday that Cameroonian soldiers fought Boko Haram militants who raided a village in the Far North region, just a day after a similar attack in the area. According to one local official, “since yesterday, Boko Haram members raided the Kerawa village…They slit the throats of between three and seven people yesterday and killed others.”
Kerawa, which has 50,000 inhabitants, is located in the Kolofata district, which has been regularly targeted by Boko Haram militants. There is a military camp inside the town, which was last hit by a double suicide bombing on 3 September, which claimed at least thirty lives.
Reports surfaced Monday that at least twenty of up to eight people, who were taken hostage by Boko Haram militants in Cameroon over the past weekend, have been freed.
Cameroon’s defence ministry disclosed Monday that the hostages were freed “as defence forces pursued the attackers who were heading back to Nigeria.” Many of those kidnapped in the cross-border raid are said to be children. It is one of the largest abductions by Boko Haram to take place outside Nigeria and it has raised fears that the militant group is expanding its operations into neighbouring countries. It is also the first major attack on Cameroon since Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, threatened President Paul Biya in a video posted online earlier this month.
The abductions took place in the villages of Maki and Mada, near the city of Mokolo, in Cameroon’s Far North region. According to Cameroonian police and local officials, the militants arrived during the early morning hours on Sunday, with on the ground sources reporting that many of those abducted were women and children. Prior to leaving the area, the attackers burned dozens of homes. It remains unclear exactly how the hostages became detached from the main group as Cameroonian authorities have not released details pertaining to the military operation, nor has there been any word from those freed or from the militants.
Boko Haram has seized control of towns and villages in northeastern Nigeria and has begun threatening neighbouring countries. It is believed that the militant group is now in control of areas in northeastern Nigeria that border Cameroon, Chad and Niger. This has prompted fears that militants will not only be able to easily stage attacks within Nigeria, but will also be able to carry out cross-border attacks into Nigeria’s neighbours.
Fears of Boko Haram expanding its operations have resulted in Chad recently deploying soldiers to help Cameroon tackle the militant group. On Friday, Ghana’s President John Mahama disclosed that African leaders would discuss plans this week to “deal permanently” with Boko Haram, suggesting that a multinational force may be considered. Those options follow months of criticism by Niger and Cameroon, who have maintained that Nigerian officials have failed to do more in order to stop Boko Haram’s attacks. Many believe that despite Boko Haram increasing its tempo of attacks, Nigerian politicians are now more focused on campaigning, ahead of next month’s presidential elections, then focusing on the security issues.