MNJTF sees Boko Haram’s defeat on the horizon

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With the handover of command of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), leaders hope to continue the momentum against the extremist group Boko Haram. But observers warn that other groups in the region might prove harder to defeat.

Outgoing commander Maj. Gen. Abdul Khalifah Ibrahim of Nigeria presented the flag of the MNJTF to his successor, Maj. Gen. Gold Chibuisi of Nigeria, during a brief ceremony on 19 April at MNJTF headquarters in N’Djamena, Chad.

Ibrahim declared that the Lake Chad Basin is in better shape than when he took command in August 2021.

“Attacks have dropped by as much as 60% or more in the Lake Chad Basin area,” he said. “In places like Barova and Diffa in Niger, IDPs [internally displaced people] and refugees are returning.”

Chibuisi pledged to build upon the force’s momentum in the region’s fight against Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), its stronger rival splinter group.

The two extremist groups have clashed since disputes within Boko Haram caused hundreds of fighters to break away and form ISWAP in 2015.

Battlefield losses, defections to ISWAP and mass surrenders have weakened Boko Haram and reduced its territory.

“Boko Haram’s strength has been compromised, perhaps fatally, by ISWAP, which holds greater economic and human resources for its cause,” International Observatory for Terrorism Studies researcher Ana Aguilera wrote in a 2 May article.

MNJTF operations also are pressuring the remnants of Boko Haram, which in 2009 launched an insurgency that has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands in northeast Nigeria and the displacement of millions in the Lake Chad region.

Fighting between Boko Haram and ISWAP intensified in February and March in villages on the fringes of Lake Chad in Nigeria’s Abadam district near the border with Niger.

“We are aware of the fighting going on between the terrorists, which is good for us, so we are just watching and keeping an eye on how it unfolds,” a Nigerian intelligence source told Agence France-Presse. “It is hard to give a toll from both sides, but the numbers are indeed huge. We are talking of more than 200 dead in [one village] alone.”

The rise of ISWAP could herald the fall of Boko Haram.

Nigerian officials and regional analysts have noted ISWAP’s efforts to govern captured territory. It raises funds through raiding, kidnapping for ransom, and taxing locals and traders.

United Nations analysts estimated ISWAP’s strength between 4,000 and 5,000 fighters in 2022. The well-connected and well-resourced group continues to attack military installations, kill Soldiers, and take weapons and other materiel.

Experts warn that ISWAP might prove to be a more durable threat.

According to the 2023 Global Terrorism Index report, published on March 14, attacks by Boko Haram fell to their lowest level in more than a decade, resulting in “substantial improvement” in Borno State, one of the group’s strongholds.

The report added that ISWAP’s lethality rate increased in the state, with 40 incidents that resulted in 168 deaths in 2022, compared to Boko Haram’s six incidents and 63 deaths.

“ISWAP has become significantly stronger and continues to expand its area of activity in north-eastern Nigeria and the Lake Chad region,” the report stated.

Aiming to capitalize on the infighting, the MNJTF in late April launched Operation Harbin Kunama in the Lake Chad area. The operation’s name means “shooting a scorpion” in the Hausa language.

The MNTJF’s effectiveness and level of coordination has improved significantly since it reorganized and relocated its headquarters to N’Djamena in 2015.

Comprised of troops from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, the force is split into Sector 1 based in Mora, Cameroon; Sector 2 based in Baga-Sola, Chad; Sector 3 based in Monguno, Nigeria; and Sector 4 based in Diffa, Niger.

Shortly after taking command, Chibuisi visited the four sector headquarters and urged his troops to bring an end to Boko Haram and ISWAP.

“The task ahead is a very serious one,” he said on April 19. “I see it as a privilege to be appointed to this high exalted office, and it is also clear already that we have to work together to achieve this mandate.

Written by Africa Defense Forum and republished with permission. The original article can be found here.