January 7, 2015
Pham: Boko Haram Has Become Africa's ISIS
The new year is off to great start for the militant group Boko Haram — and much less so for Nigeria, its West African neighbors, and the international community as a whole — as the brutal insurgents continue to carve out what has, in effect, become Africa's ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). It is high time the United States and its allies give this burgeoning problem the attention it deserves.
Over the course of the last year, the Nigerian extremists best known for their infamous April 2014 kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls, an outrage which gave rise to the global social media phenomenon of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, have become a military force to be reckoned with. What I dubbed the militant group's "Version 3.0" in testimony before a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in June has successfully seized and holds wide swathes of three states in northeastern Nigeria — by some estimates, a total area larger than that of the state of Maryland. It has used this base to launch a campaign of terrorist attacks reaching other Nigerian states as well as into neighboring countries, many of whom are already under pressure from militants linked to al Qaeda's North African affiliate as well as the disintegration of Libya. By some estimates, more than 10,000 people have died as a result of Boko Haram-related violence in just 2014 alone, while more than 1.5 million others have been displaced.
Over this past weekend, in a stunning humiliation to the Nigerian army, Boko Haram stormed Baga on the shores of Lake Chad, one of the last urban centers in the region remaining in government hands. Even more importantly, the town was supposed host the multinational joint task force set up by Nigeria and its neighbors — Cameroon, Chad and Niger — to combat the militants. The other African forces had not arrived on post when Boko Haram overwhelmed the Nigerian troops, many of whom reportedly threw down their weapons and fled, and took control of the military base that was to serve as the command center for the regional effort to combat the insurgency.