Boko Haram’s Resilience

Its Adaptive Tactics Require a New Approach

A military vehicle drives along the Konduga-Bama road in Bama, Borno, Nigeria, August 2016. Afolabi Sotunde / REUTERS

Reports of Boko Haram’s defeat have been greatly exaggerated. In December 2015, in the days leading up to Christmas, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari declared that the insurgency was “technically defeated.” Nearly a year later, Lieutenant General Tukur Burtai told journalists in the Borno State capital of Maiduguri that, “it is very clear that the terrorists have been defeated; there are no doubts about it.” He assured his audience that the government was now focusing on “mop up operations aimed at ensuring that we clear the rest of them.” Such announcements aside, however, the fight against Boko Haram remains a formidable challenge that will likely extend into 2017 and beyond. As the rainy season has drawn to a close and movement throughout the country’s northeast has become easier, a spate of attacks in urban centers and against the communities surrounding Maiduguri demonstrate the insurgency’s resilience.

This is not to suggest that the endeavors of the Nigerian military, police, and vigilante groups have been entirely ineffective. The country has successfully dislodged Boko Haram from much of the territory that it controlled in 2014 when it pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS) and declared itself a caliphate. Still, the insurgency’s adaptability in the face of military offensives should not be underestimated. Although Nigeria’s political and military elite publicly maintain that the group’s defeat is imminent, they are nonetheless planning continued operations against the insurgency’s strongholds and have expressed serious interest in purchasing sophisticated military equipment. To put an end to the crisis, Nigeria should reassess its approach to fighting Boko Haram, focusing on the non-kinetic aspects of the insurgency and drawing from analysis of the group’s fluid tactics.


The rise of Boko Haram is undoubtedly the biggest crisis that Nigeria has faced since its civil war in the late 1960s. Although the group began as a largely non-violent dissident Salafist sect in Maiduguri at the turn of the millennium, it has since become one of the most

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