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.
A report released on 16 November indicated that deaths from terrorism in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries decreased last year by 650 percent despite a marked fall globally as Nigerian-based Boko Haram militants and the so-called Islamic State (IS) Group suffered military defeats at home but carried out more attacks abroad.
The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) has reported that worldwide, there were 29,376 deaths that were caused by terrorism in 2015. This figure represents a decline of 10 percent, adding that this is the first decrease in four years. GTI disclosed that his decline was due to action against IS in Iraq and Boko Haram in Nigeria, which cut the numbers killed there by a third. IS was the deadliest group in 2015, overtaking Boko Haram. Last year, IS carried out attacks in 252 cities that led to 6,141 deaths. The index however has noted that Boko Haram’s move into neighbouring countries – Cameroon, Chad and Niger – saw the number of fatalities in the se countries increase by 157 percent.
The report however notes that the groups have spread their actions to neighbouring states and regions, where they have caused a huge increase in fatalities amongst OECD members, most of which are wealthy countries, such as the United States and European countries. According to GTI, of the 34 OECD member countries, 21 had witnesses at least one attack with most deaths occurred in Turkey and France. Last year’s terror incidents included coordinated attacks carried out by IS gunmen and suicide bombers at the Bataclan music venue, a soccer stadium and several cafes in Paris in November, which killed 130 people. The index also noted that Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden and Turkey all suffered their worst death tolls from terrorism in a single year since 2000, adding that in total twenty-three countries registered their highest ever number of terrorism deaths. Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria, which accounted for 72 percent of all deaths, were the top five ranked countries in the GTI. The United States ranked 36th, with France coming in 29th, Russia in 30th and the United Kingdom in 34th.
According to Steve Killelea, executive chairman at the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) think-tank, “while on the one hand the reduction in deaths is positive, the continued intensification of terrorism in some countries and its spread to new ones is a cause for serious concern and underscores the fluid nature of modern terrorist activity,” adding that “the attacks in the heartland of western democracies underscore the need for fast-paced and tailored responses to the evolution of these organizations.”
On 31 October, France formally ended Operation Sangaris in the Central African Republic, almost three years after the military mission was launched in December 2013 in a bid to quell inter-ethnic unrest in the country.
The operation initially ran alongside an African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission, which was known as MISCA and which later morphed into the UN’s MINUSCA force, which aimed to help restore stability in the capital city Bangui. The mission has however, for the most part, failed to end violence elsewhere in the country, as clashes have continued to erupt in recent weeks and tensions remain high.
At its height, France had more than 2,500 troops from various French units that took part in the mission. In June 2016, France indicated that it had reduced its force in the CAR to 350 soldiers, who would serve as tactical reserve force for the UN peacekeepers, effectively announcing the end of its military mission there. The number of soldiers is due to fall below 300 by early next year with the remaining troops deployed as part of a European military training mission, to support UN drone operations or as a rapid reaction unit supporting the national army.
France’s withdrawal has effectively left security largely in the hands of MINUSCA, the 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission, however in recent weeks, criticism of the force has increased, with local people accusing the peacekeepers of not doing enough in order to protect them. The National Assembly president, Abdoul Karim Meckassoua, has expressed concern that the French troops’ departure would exacerbate a deteriorating security climate.
About 3,500 French troops are currently stationed in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger as part of Operation Barkhane in order to fight militancy in West Africa and the Sahel region.
Overview of Operation Sangaris
- 5 December 2013 – Widespread clashes erupted in Bangui, leaving hundreds dead in the streets.
- Christian milita groups, known as anti-Balaka (anti-machete) attacked a number of areas in the capital city, targeting Muslims and triggering revenge attacks by the mainly-Muslim Seleka rebel alliance. Seleka fighters has already targeted the majority Christian population, a key reason as to why the anti-Balaka group emerged. Attacks by both sides, mostly targeting civilians, plunged the CAR into a humanitarian, political and security crisis.
- Several hours after the violence broke out, a French operation force began deploying across the country as part of a UN-mandated effort to quell the deadly wave of sectarian violence. The operation was named “Sangaris” after a small red butterfly that is common the region.
- At the time, French President Francois Hollande disclosed that the troops would remain in the country “as long as necessary,” noting however that the operation was “not designed to last.” Paris, which had already deployed troops to Mali in January of that year in order to battle jihadist groups, watched the situation in the CAR continue to deteriorate following the overthrow in March of Francois Bozize by Seleka rebels who were led by Michel Djotodia.
- An initial force of about 1,200 French marines, paratroopers and engineering units was official deployed to back up the AU’s MISCA force, however they quickly found themselves on the Front line. Their mandate was to “disarm all milita and other armed group s that have terrorized the population” and the fist objective was to secure the capital city and tis 4.5 million inhabitants.
- Between February to September 2014 – Combat troops also secured a road link from Bangui to neighbouring Cameroon.
- September 2014 – Un soldiers from MINUSCA took over the MISCA troops.
- 14 February 2016 – Faustin-Archange Touadera is elected president, effectively capping a chaotic political transition. Three months later, President Hollande visited Bangui, declaring that stability “has been restored.” Elsewhere in the country however armed groups continued to plague the population. Former Seleka units remain active and a total disarmament of militia groups appears to be unlikely.
- Since July 2014, the force has been under growing pressure following the emergence of allegations of child rape by French soldiers deployed in the CAR. French prosecutors opened an investigation, however the allegations did not become public until April 2015. Since then, other reports have emerged about troops’ alleged involvement in sexual attacks and giving children food and sometimes small amounts of money for sexual services. Currently, the Sangaris force is subject to three investigations into separate allegations of sexual abuse of children in the CAR. In June 2016, Paris prosecutors also opened a preliminary investigation into allegations that French troops beat up, or stood by while others beat up two people in the CAR.
- France has intervened military in the CAR a number of times. The CAR, which is a former French colony, won independence in 1960.
The commander in charge of ending Boko Haram’s seven-year insurgency in northeastern Nigeria announced at the end of August that the country’s army expects to seize the militant group’s last few strongholds in the northeastern region over the next few weeks.
According to Major General Lucky Irabor, commander of the operation, the militant group is now holed up in a few pockets of the Sambisa forest and two areas located near Lake Chad, adding that they would be flushed out “within weeks.” Sambisa forest is where more than 200 schoolgirls, who were kidnapped from the northeastern Nigerian town of Chibok in April 2014, are believed to be held. During an interview at his base in Maiduguri in Borno state, the birth place of the insurgency, Irabor disclosed that “almost all of the locations held by the Boko Haram terrorists have been reclaimed. We are talking only of a few villages and towns.” He further added that “there are joint operations. My commanders have an exchange with local commanders across the borders. Because of the collaborations we’ve had Boko Haram has been boxed in and in a few weeks you will hear good news.” He also disclosed that the militant group, who pledged loyalty to the so-called Islamic State (IS) group last year, were still in control of Abadan and Malafatori, two towns located near Lake Chad. The army is now planing a new push into the Sambisa forest after abandoning an attempt due to torrential rain.
The Nigerian army missed a December 2015 deadline that was set up by President Muhammadu Buhari to wipe out the militant group, which wants to set up an Islamic caliphate in the area around Lake Chad. The army has however retaken most of the group’s territory, which at one point was the size of Belgium, with much of the success being due to better military cooperation with Nigeria’s neighbours, particularly Chad, whose forces have ben attacking Boko Haram fighters fleeing across the border. Despite loosing territory, Boko Haram manages to stage regular suicide bombings in Nigeria and in neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Furthermore, since 2009, when the insurgency began, more than 15,000 people have been killed and a further 2.3 million have been displaced while the local economy has been decimated.
The move to retake the final areas of the northeastern region of the country comes after reports emerged that Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, may have been wounded or even killed in a recent air strike in the region. While there have been conflicting reports of Shekau’s status, Irabor has disclosed that the leader had recently been wounded, backing off an Air Force statement released earlier this month that suggested that he had been killed in an airstrike. Irabor disclosed, “Shekau was wounded. That’s what I can confirm, but as to whether he is dead that I cannot at the moment confirm.” Boko Haram, which normally communicates via video or audio clips posted o the Internet, has so far stated nothing since the 24 August Air Force statement about Shekau sustaining injuries in the airstrike.
The so-called Islamic State (IS) militant group has announced that its West African affiliate, Nigerian-based Boko Haram, has a new leader.
Abu Musab al-Barnawi, who was previously a spokesman for the Nigerian-based militant group, has ben featured in the latest issue of an IS magazine, which makes no reference to Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader since 2009. However just a day later after the announcement, Shekau maintained that he is still the leader of Boko Haram, rejecting a successor who was announced just hours earlier by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group and effectively exposing the biggest rift yet amongst Nigeria’s deadly Islamic insurgents. An audio speech purporting to be from Shekau criticized al-Barnawi and said that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi did not respond to several letters from Shekau explaining that al-Barnawi is “an infidel” preaching “false creeds.” Shekau called the announcement “a coup,” adding “today I woke up to see one who is an infidel whom they want me to follow. No I wont…We cannot subject ourselves to people who are in ignorance of all holy books and teachings.” He also highlighted ideological differences with al-Barnawi, who promised in an interview that was published on Wednesday in IS newspaper al-Nabaa to end attacks on mosques and markets frequented by Muslims. Such attacks have been a hallmark of Boko Haram under Shekau, who has led the group since 2009. Shekau’s declaration could effectively pave the way for a break from IS and Boko Haram’s possible return to the influence of al-Qaeda. It could also cause insurgent rivals to turn their guns on each other.
Boko Haram, which is fighting to overthrow the Nigerian government, has lost most of the territory it controlled 18 months ago, effectively forcing the militant group to change its tactics and to launch hit-and-run attacks in northeastern Nigeria, as well as in neighbouring countries in the Lake Chad Basin, including Chad and Cameroon. Its seven-year insurgency has left 20,000 people deadly, mainly in the northeast of Nigeria, and has displaced thousands more. Shekau took over as the group’s leader after its founder, Muhammad Yusuf, died in Nigerian police custody in July 2009. Under his leadership, Boko Haram became more radical – carrying out more brutal attacks and killings. It swore allegiance to IS in March 2015. In numerous videos, Shekau taunted the Nigerian authorities, and celebrated the group’s violent attacks, including the April 2014 abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls from the village of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria. Nigeria’s army has claimed on several occasions to have killed him.