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Unbroken Boko Haram

Buhari Prematurely Declares Victory

A Cameroonian soldier stands on a Nigerian armoured vehicle used by Boko Haram insurgents to attack a Cameroon army patrol near Waza, February 17, 2015. Bate Felix Tabi Tabe / Reuters

After less than a year in office, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is claiming significant progress against Boko Haram. Buhari has shifted the base of military operations from Abuja, the capital, to the northeastern city of Maiduguri, coordinated military efforts with other armed forces in the region, and sought better cooperation with the United States and the United Kingdom on intelligence and assistance. His administration has also attempted to crack down on corruption in the security establishment. As a result of these efforts, the Buhari administration says, Boko Haram is on the run; Nigeria, Buhari declared, has won a “technical victory” over the group. It is still a “fighting force,” he continued, but “we have dealt with them.”

Such pronouncements are less than reassuring, however, to many Nigerians and their neighbors who are still targeted by Boko Haram terror attacks, as well as to the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the continuing conflict in the region. During the first two weeks of February, more than 260 people were killed in a series of insurgent attacks on villages in Borno State, a suicide bombing at a large camp for displaced persons in Dikwa, Borno State, and a number of military operations against the militants. If anything, these attacks confirm a trend we first described in a Foreign Affairs article published in June (shortly after Buhari’s inauguration). In it, we argued that although regional forces had made significant progress in the fight against Boko Haram, the group was far from defeated; it had merely returned to urban terrorist tactics and assaults on “soft” targets.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, Nigeria, March 2, 2016.

Afolabi Sotunde / Reuters

This trend dates back to an offensive launched in the summer of 2015 by forces from Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria. The offensive degraded Boko Haram’s ability to conduct conventional attacks. Overall in 2015, casualties in Boko Haram–related incidents topped 10,000 on all sides. Our data show that Boko Haram was responsible for 6,760 deaths and regional security forces

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