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In recent months, the Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram has seen an apparent reversal of fortune. Regional military forces, in an offensive begun in the weeks before Nigeria’s general elections in March, have retaken territory and displaced militants from their strongholds in the northeast. President Muhammadu Buhari has pledged to end the insurgency in the northern states and is widely regarded as capable of doing so, in view of his military background and his familiarity with the zone of conflict.
But the Buhari administration will face a resilient and formidable opponent. Indeed, Boko Haram’s tactical flexibility and its roots in northern Nigeria’s marginalized communities suggest a prolonged and many-layered struggle. Already, the extremist group has responded to battlefield setbacks by returning to bombings and hit-and-run guerrilla attacks, a familiar operational shift that could lead to a surge in casualties.
In many respects, countering such diffuse tactics will