Nigerians May Likely Miss Boko Haram Deadline: Analysts

A video image of Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, which has carried out deadly attacks in the country's northeast as well as parts of Cameroon, Niger and Chad. By - (Boko Haram/AFP/File)

Lagos (AFP) - Nigeria's government has vowed to end the Boko Haram insurgency by this month but the deadline looks likely to be missed as attacks persist with little sign of an effective regional response.

President Muhammadu Buhari gave his military commanders the target in August to build on apparent gains in recapturing territory seized by the Islamists in 2014.

But despite further claimed successes since then and a reduction in the group's trademark hit-and-run attacks, there has been no let-up in deadly suicide and bomb attacks.

"I think it's pretty impossible for them to meet the deadline," said security analyst Fulan Nasrullah, who tracks the conflict. "Boko Haram is still in control of Borno North senatorial district.

"There are still attacks occurring in Chibok, Buratai, Gwoza (in Borno state) and Buni Yadi (in Yobe), as well as in the Gulak region of northern Adamawa."

Nigeria's army is still trumpeting its successes, however, and at the weekend announced the arrest of about a dozen suspects it said were part of Boko Haram "sleeper cells" in the capital, Abuja.

It also said it had again begun operations against Boko Haram bases "deep inside" the Sambisa Forest in Borno, despite indications fighters have now moved to islands on Lake Chad.

- 'Worthless' deadline -

Imposing a deadline in the first place took many observers by surprise.

Buhari, a retired army general and former military ruler, had consistently vowed to approach the conflict differently from his predecessors.

The previous administration under Goodluck Jonathan made repeated pledges of a swift end to the conflict, all of which came and went, hitting military and government credibility.

Buhari promised to restructure the military, which was hit by complaints that money and weapons were not reaching frontline troops despite massive government defence spending.

Yet apart from redeploying the high command to the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, and a claimed upsurge in the morale of troops, there have been few signs of an immediate overhaul.

Since announcing the deadline, Buhari has been more cautious. In September, he accepted guerrilla-style tactics will persist and on Monday told army top brass the deadline "should serve as a guide".

For Ryan Cummings, chief Africa analyst at the Red24 risk consultancy, an artificial deadline was "worthless" given the regional nature of the conflict.

Boko Haram's expansion into neighbouring Chad, Cameroon and Niger, underlined the need for multilateral rather than unilateral action and greater coordination, he said.

"There are many dynamics at play which makes it very difficult to assess when the insurgency will be truly be ended," he said.

"But an imminent end to the Boko Haram crisis seems a very unlikely development at this stage."

Nasrullah said Nigeria's military was still focusing on defeating Boko Haram as a conventional fighting force and little, if anything, had been done to tackle the insurgency's root causes.

"The Nigerian military is not in any way prepared to fight the kind of war that's being fought. Boko Haram see it as a religious ideology.

"Physical combat is just one facet of the whole war."

- Regional inaction -

A coordinated, regional approach to ending the insurgency still looks far off, even after an increasing wave of suicide and bomb attacks outside Nigeria.

At least 17,000 have been killed since the conflict began in 2009 and some 1,500 in Nigeria since Buhari took office in May, according to an AFP tally.

A new 8,700-strong Multi-national Joint Task Force (MNJTF) comprising troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin was supposed to have been deployed in late July.

But the African Union-backed force has yet to start operations, with no reason given for the lengthening delay and questions over whether the countries have the resources to commit.

Boko Haram, pushed out of northeast Nigeria, also poses a potential international threat, after its leader Abubakar Shekau pledged allegiance to the Islamic State jihadist group in March.

Nnamdi Obasi, senior Nigeria researcher at the International Crisis Group, said the lull in attacks since late October lends weight to Nigerian military claims the militants were in disarray.

He agreed attacks would likely continue into 2016, widening a climate of fear both in the places affected and further afield and handing ammunition to Buhari's political opponents.

"It appears that he is repeating the mistakes made by the Goodluck Jonathan regime... by making promises that he can't keep and being conspicuously silent, some may even say indifferent, to the acts of mass violence Boko Haram continues to perpetrate within Nigeria's borders," he added.

Source: Phil Hazlewood
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