Boko Haram Is Back, With Better Drones

September 13: Nigeria’s war against the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram was supposed to be over by now. President Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler, was re-elected earlier this year after boasting about his progress battling Boko Harm. He has repeatedly declared that the group has been “technically defeated.” On Tuesday, the president conceded that “its members are still a nuisance.”

A full decade into the war, however, Boko Haram militants are still roaming the countryside with impunity. Their fighters now have more sophisticated drones than the military and are well-armed after successful raids on military brigades, according to local politicians and security analysts.

Militants control four of the 10 zones in northern Borno State, near Lake Chad, according to security analysts and a federal official. They are pulling off almost-daily attacks, including opening fire last week on the convoy of the governor of Borno State. To people in villages like Konduga, Boko Haram’s defeat seems distant. The attack on June 17 that wounded Abdul and his friends (his last name is being withheld to protect him from reprisals) also killed 30 people — eight of them children.

By many accounts, the Nigerian military is demoralized and on the defensive. Some soldiers have complained they haven’t had a home leave in three years. Their weapons and vehicles have fallen into disrepair. In August, the new commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, which means “Peace by Force,” publicly reminded his field officers to give food and water to troops. He is the eighth commander in 10 years.

The military announced in August that it is pulling back its troops from far-flung outposts in the countryside and gathering them into fortified settlements it calls “super camps.” The super camps are inside of garrison towns where the Nigerian military in recent years settled tens of thousands of civilians — either after Boko Haram chased them away, or soldiers burned their villages and rounded them up, saying it would secure the countryside. The garrison towns are ringed by trenches to slow militant invasions, but the pullback has allowed Boko Haram fighters free rein in the barren countryside.

The war with Boko Haram has devastated the population in rural northeast Nigeria, one of the poorest regions on earth. More than two million people have fled their homes, tens of thousands have been killed and many more injured, abducted and conscripted to join the fight. The International Committee of the Red Cross said this week that nearly 22,000 Nigerians have been reported missing during the crisis.

Read More / Source: NY Times / Dionne Searcey

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