Monday, May 19, 2014

What You Want To Know About Boko Haram

In February, Boko Haram slaughtered 59 schoolboys by slitting their throats. This horrible act was reported in the Nigerian press but was largely ignored elsewhere. According to Patrick Smith, editor of the newsletter Africa Confidential, “In the last five years, at least 4,000 to 5,000 people are believed to have died from acts of terrorism, [from] firefights between Nigerian troops and Boko Haram.” Amnesty International says at least 1,500 people have died this year alone.

“In retrospect, we might have done it earlier.”
— Robert P. Jackson, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, testifying before Congress on May 15

The kidnapping of more than 200 girls in Nigeria by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram has focused attention on whether the State Department should have designated it as a foreign terrorist organization in 2012, rather than when it did, in 2013.

According to current and former U.S. officials, the actions of Hillary Clinton's State Department to downplay Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization in the summer of 2012 was no isolated incident.  It was part a larger imitative by the Obama administration to scale down al Qaeda and understate the rise of feeder affiliates even when they had been warned about Boko Haram. There was also an attitude among some key administration official that "Boko Haram maybe bad guys but they're Nigeria's bad guys".

The administration took a similar position toward Libya, when it took a lackadaisical investment of resources and time toward the rise of the violent Islamist groups there.

Reuters reported:

"As early as January 2012, Lisa Monaco, then-head of the Justice Department's national security division and now White House counterterrorism coordinator, sent a letter to State Department counterterrorism chief Daniel Benjamin contending that Boko Haram had links with "transnational terrorist groups," including al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an affiliate of al Qaeda in north Africa, and saying that the Nigerian group "openly espoused violence against the West." 

Boko Haram hadn't exactly been quietly sitting in a corner somewhere. Their trademark was originally the use of gunmen on motorbikes, killing police, politicians and anyone who criticized it, including clerics from other Muslim traditions and Christian preachers. The group has also staged numerous audacious attacks in northern and central Nigeria, including bombing churches, bus ranks, bars, military barracks and even the police and UN headquarters in the capital, Abuja.

Then on April 14, hundreds of armed militants abducted more than 200 girls from a school in Chibok, located in a remote northeast region of Nigeria. Riding in pickup trucks and on motorcycles, according to a local official, the militants herded the girls into the trucks and set fire to a room in the school before driving into the forest.

Whether the Obama administration's attitude toward these groups were driven by political vested interests or not, the minimizing of violent actions and capabilities of groups such as Boko Haram and the militias in Libya and Benghazi did create public perception the Obama Administration had reduced al Qaeda and company threats to minuscule proportions. This perception mirrored the administration's reelection claims of having succeeded in toppling al Qaeda with the killing of Osama Bin Laden. This attitude was voiced in speeches by President Obama. He vehemently reiterated that America must get off a "perpetual wartime footing," and declared that "core al Qaeda was a shell of its former self."

In the meantime, conservatives and "Faux" News have tried to use the emergence of Boko Haram as a platform to reigniting the Benghazi incident. That's a reach that doesn't make sense. True both are factions of larger terror entities yet Benghazi and Nigeria does not have anything to do with one another.

The kidnapping of the 200 plus Nigerian schoolgirls has revealed Boko Haram's agenda. The group harbors a different and solitary agenda unrelated to those of al Qaeda. The African militant group is holding the Nigerian schoolgirls hostage in return for the release of their imprisoned operatives. They have a larger objective of ousting the Nigerian government and bringing Islamist rule to the country. Regardless of their agenda, if they had remained under priority scrutiny by the Obama Administration they may not have succeeded in kidnapping the  girls.

According to White House officials a team of 27 U.S. experts have been sent to help in the search will contribute U.S. intelligence information and surveillance abilities. The White House indicated it is refraining from any physical force to this point.

"The scope of that assistance has been outlined, and it includes military and law enforcement assistance, advisory assistance, as well as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney

The United States is also likely to provide help monitoring and intercepting communications among members of Boko Haram.

As far as negotiations with Boko Haram go, the Nigerian government says they're considering all options. The U.S. is vehemently against paying any ransom for return of some or all of the girls.

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