On 14 May, regional and western powers gathered in Nigeria to attend talks on quelling the threat from Boko Haram.
Speaking to reporters shortly after meeting with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, French President Francois Hollande stated that “impressive” gains has been made against the Islamists by greater cooperation, warning however that “this terrorist group nevertheless remains a threat.” The Nigerian leader has invited leaders from Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, whose troops will make up a new regional force against Boko Haram, which has been pushed to northeastern Nigeria’s borders around Lake Chad. The 8,500-member force, which has African Union (AU) backing and which is based in Chad’s capital, N’Djamena under a Nigerian general, was supposed to have deployed July 2015. Plugging gaps and improving coordination between the armies that are currently operating largely independently is seen as vital in the remote region where borders are known to be porous. Saturday’s summit, which comes two years after a first such high-level gathering in Paris, also comes as Nigeria’s military pushes deep into Boko Haram’s Sambisa Forest stronghold after recapturing swathes of territory. While President Buhari has vowed to defeat Boko Haram before the end of his first year in office later this month, and the army portraying the Islamists as being in disarray, there have been warnings against any premature declaration of victory. Deputy US Secretary of State Anthony Blinking disclosed in Washington, which is flying surveillance drones over northeastern Nigeria from a base in northern Cameroon, that he did not see Boko Haram as defeated. However he conceded that “they have been degraded,” adding that the US was “extremely vigilant” about the connections, amidst reports of Boko Haram rebels fighting in lawless Libya and the group’s ties to al-Qaeda affiliates in the wider Sahel region. Speaking to reporters on Friday, he disclosed that “this is against something we are looking at very, very carefully because we want to cut it off.” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has also warned about Boko Haram’s ties to the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, stating that progress was being made against the group with help from London, Paris and Washington. He added in his statement that “…we must maintain the momentum to win the war, and build the right conditions for post-conflict stability in the region.” With Boko Haram now on the back foot, attention has increasingly started to turn towards the plight of those that have been displaced by the ongoing insurgency. Two million Nigerians have been internally displaced and are now living in host communities or camps. The government of Borno State, which has been the worst-hit by the violence, has stated that the displaced face a “food crisis” and US $5.9 billion was needed to rebuild shattered infrastructure. United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who visited northeastern Nigeria and northern Cameroon last month, has indicated that 9.2 million people in the wider region were affected by the conflict.
The final communiqué disclosed that a “global approach” was required, comprising of hard and soft power in order to end the threat. Britain’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond characterized the fight against extremist ideology as “a generational struggle against an evil that will destroy us if we do not destroy it.” He further told the gathering that “we must sustain this fight until evil is defeated and good prevails,” and called for countries affected to win the “hears and minds of those terrorized by Boko Haram.” US Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken also disclosed that respect for human rights was essential, after repeated accusations of military abuses against civilians and Bok Haram suspects. He further warned that not addressing the drivers of extremism – poverty, deprivation, lack of opportunity and education, would create “Bok Haram 2.0” even if the group were defeated militarily.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that dozens of British troops will be deployed to Somalia in a bid to help the ongoing peacekeeping efforts to counter Islamist militants operating in the Horn of Africa nation.
Sources have disclosed that up to seventy personnel will join the United Nations contingent, which is supporting African Union (AU) troops who are fighting al-Shabaab. British forces deployed to Somalia will provide combat training as well as medical, logistical and engineering support.
Furthermore, up to 300 personnel could also be deployed in South Sudan over time. The role of those being deployed to South Sudan will include combat training as well as engineer work in order to strengthen vital infrastructure.
The PM, who is due to pledge the support at the upcoming UN General Assembly summit, has disclosed that the approach could help curb migrants coming to Europe. According to Mr Cameron, it is important to “step up” existing British contribution,” adding, “obviously we will want to see all the right force protection arrangements in place but we should be playing a part in this.” The British PM further disclosed that “the outcome in Somalia, if it’s a good outcome, that’s good for Britain…It means less terrorism, les migration, less piracy. Ditto in South Sudan: if we can, as peacekeepers, help to maintain order and peace and see stable development in that country then that is going to be, again, less poverty, less migration, less issues that affect us back at home. Mr Cameron however noted that British troop swill not be involved in combat roles, stating, “its not committing troops to conflict, its committing troops to a UN blue-hatted peacekeeping role – as we’ve done many times in the past, as we will do in the future…And one of the reasons we’re doing it is obviously the expertise that British troops have in training, engineering, and mentoring and we’re raising the standard for peacekeeping troops, which has had some issues and problems in the recent past.”
During the upcoming UN General Assembly summit, Prime Minister Cameron will hold face-to-face talks with Somali President Hassan Sheikh Muhamoud, along with several other world leaders.
Days after Nigerian President sought approval from parliament to borrow up to US $1 billion (£580 million) abroad, in order to help the armed forces tackle the security threat posed by Boko Haram, Nigeria’s National Assembly has broken up for a two-month recess, effectively meaning that approval for the loan will have to wait until at least September.
On Wednesday, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan submitted an urgent request to borrow US $1 billion abroad to help the armed forces tackle the security threat posed by Boko Haram. In his statement to Parliament, which was read to deputies by the leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives, the President stated “you are no doubt cognizant of the on-going and serious security challenges which the nation is facing as typified by the Boko Haram terrorist threat,” adding “for this reason, I seek the concurrence of the National Assembly for external borrowing of not more than $1 billion.” The president noted that this loan would be used to upgrade the equipment, training and logistics of the security forces and that such a loan could include a “government to government arrangement,” however he did not name any specific foreign country.
Nigeria’s parliament was expected to debate the issue at a time when Boko Haram’s five-year insurgency has gained international attention. However with the summer recess, both chambers of Parliament are not due to sit again until the end of their annual recess in September. While sources have indicated that it would normally take several days for such a loan to be approved the President’s request is likely to raise some questions as Nigeria’s 2014 budget already includes nearly US $6 billion in security spending while the government is facing allegations put forth by former central bank governor, Lamido Sanusi, who has stated that billions of dollars of oil revenues are failing to reach the national treasury. Once Parliament is back in session, both the lower and upper houses will debate the loan request. It will then pass the request to the committee and then back to the chamber for approval. If however the chambers differ on the request, a joint committee will be formed in order to reach an agreement on the amount the loan should be set at.
While Nigeria’s military is currently receiving training, advise and intelligence support from allies, including Britain, France, Israel and the United States, it is still struggling to counter the almost daily raids, frequent kidnappings and targeted bomb attacks carried out by Boko Haram militants. President Jonathan’s government has also been accused of not doing enough to protect civilians from such attacks.
Police and residents reported Tuesday that an explosion ripped through a football viewing centre in Damaturu, northern Nigeria, as fans were gathering to watch a World Cup game.
The blast, which occurred at the Crossfire venue, in the Nayi-Nawa area of the state capital of Yobe, occurred shortly after the tournament began at 8:00 PM (1900 GMT). Unconfirmed reports have indicated that a suicide bomber has killed at least twenty-one people and wounded twenty-seven. Sanusi Ruf’ai, police commissioner for Yobe state, confirmed the attack, stating “there was an explosion outside a soccer viewing center here in Damaturu at around 8:15 PM….Our men have deployed to the scene but it’s too early for us to give details.” On the ground sources have reported that the area has been cordoned off and that police and soldiers are investigating, while eyewitnesses have indicated that the suicide bomber, who was in a tricycle taxi, detonated explosives as people were watching the match. While there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, suspicions have fallen on Boko Haram, as the militant group has previously targeted big screen venues showing soccer matches.
The latest blast comes after at least two Nigerian states banned viewing centers on security grounds following previous similar attacks, which have been blamed on Boko Haram militants. Last week, authorities in Adamawa state closed viewing centers, where large crowds gather to watch the matches on large screens. The central state of Plateau followed suit days later. The decision by authorities to close the viewing centers is in response to repeated threats by the militant group and a blast that occurred earlier this month. A bomb went off after a football match in the town of Mubi in Adamawa state. The incident killed at least forty people. In May, three people were killed in a blast outside a viewing center that was showing the European Champions League final in the city of Jos, the capital of Plateau state, while in April, suspected Boko Haram gunmen stormed a packed venue in Potiskum, in northeastern Yobe state, shooting dead two people as they watched the Champions League quarter-final matches.
Boko haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau has previously preached against football and has threated to carry out attacks during this year’s World Cup football tournament. In several video clips, he described football and music as a Western ploy to distract Muslims from their religion. While football is Nigeria’s national sport, and has many followers, many residents living in the northern regions of the country have indicated that they will watch the World Cup at home because of fears of Boko Haram attacks.
Similar fears have also put a number of east African nations on high alert amidst fears that Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked-al-Shabaab will carryout similar attacks during football screenings.
Earlier this week, officials in Britain released warnings to citizens in several east African nations, including Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, warning of the threat of terrorist attacks at public screenings of the World Cup games. A statement released by Britain’s Foreign Office indicated “previous terrorist attacks in the region have targeted places where football matches are being viewed,” adding that crowded areas, including “transport hubs, hotels, restaurants and bars” are possible targets for the militant group.
One of al-Shabaab’s top commanders vowed Thursday to redirect the militant group’s war to neighboring Kenya, urging fighters to launch attacks.
In a radio broadcast, Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, one of al-Shabaab’s most senior commanders stated “the war will be shifting to Kenya, if they kill a Somali girl we kill a Kenyan girl,” adding “we are urging all Muslims in Kenya…to fight the government of Kenya inside the country, because Kenyans killed your people including children.” Khalaf, who is viewed as second in command after chief Ahmed Abdi Godane, also noted “when their soldiers and war planes kill your people, God permits you to retaliate accordingly, we will fight the Kenyans.” This remark is likely linked to the recent air strikes that have targeted al-Shabaab bases in southern Somalia. The speech comes just days after fighters jets, believed to be from Kenya, struck al-Shabaab strongholds in southern Somalia earlier this week. The air strikes are part of the latest push by African Union (AU) forces against the militant group.
The United States has offered a US $5 million bounty for Khalaf, who holds both Somali and Swedish nationality. Khalaf, who the US says is both an al-Shabaab military commander and key fundraiser, reportedly spent over a decade in the Swedish capital Stockholm.
In the past few months, Kenya has seen a sharp rise in attacks on its soil, many of which have been linked to Islamist extremists. This rise demonstrates al-Shabaab’s shift in tactics, moving its focus partially from Somalia and more onto Kenya in the hopes that the Kenyan government will withdraw its troops from the Somali mission. This increase in attacks has prompted countries such as France, Britain, Australia and the United States to issue travel warnings. They have advised their nationals to avoid the coastal city of Mombasa and the capital, Nairobi. Last week, a double bomb attack in a Nairobi market left ten people dead and scores wounded, with more similar attacks likely to occur in the coming months.
On Tuesday, the AU force in Somalia confirmed that it had conducted new air strikes against a rebel base in the southern region of Somalia, the second air strike to be carried out in the past three days.
A statement issued by AMISOM indicates that its planes were after “senior leadership and foreign al-Shabaab fighters, at a base located near the town of Jilib, in Somalia’s Middle Jubba region. The statement also claimed that fifty insurgents were killed in the attack, which “further debilitated al-Shabaab’s capacity to wreak havoc and terrorize innocent Somali civilians.” A spokesman for al-Shabaab however has stated that only farmland was hit and that five civilians were wounded, adding “the claim of AMISOM is baseless and pure propaganda.” Witnesses in the area have reported that there were several civilians hurt, however they had not information on any al-Shabaab casualties. One local resident, Moalim Hassan, stated “we heard very big explosions as military jets flew over the town. Two of the bombs landed near Faragurow village leaving four civilians wounded but we don’t know about other casualties they may have caused.” The airstrikes on the town of Jilib are understood to be part of the offensive by the 22,000-strong UN-backed African Union force, who in March launched a fresh bid to gain control of the remaining towns under al-Shabaab’s control. The impoverished town is a key al-Shabaab hub in southern Somalia’s Middle Jubba region, and is located some 320 kilometers (200 miles) southwest of Mogadishu. It remains unclear where the jets are from, however Kenya, which is part of the AU force, has used its jets to strike al-Shabaab bases before.