AfricaNews.com reports that two female suicide bombers detonated their explosives at a funeral in Nguetchéwé in northern Cameroon on 10 February. The blasts killed eight and wounded 45. Using northern Nigeria as its base, Boko Haram seeks to establish a radical form of sharia law in West Africa and is an ISIS affiliate.
As the funeral proceeded, the two suicide bombers slipped into the crowd and detonated their explosives as they met the bereaved family.
Boko Haram has frequently attacked northern Cameroon, especially as of late. On 18 January, it bombed a mosque using a 14-year old suicide bomber in Nguetchéwé, killing five. On 25 January, it sent four suicide bombers to attack a market in Bodo, killing 32 and wounding 66, reports Reuters. On 13 January, it killed 13 in an attack on another mosque in Kouyape. Boko Haram has attacked five mosques in Cameroon in recent months.
This is just a smattering of Boko Haram’s involvement in Cameroon. Virginia Comolli (of the London-based think tank, IISS,) in her authoritative book, Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Islamist Insurgency, asserts that the group has been using the border regions of Cameroon as sanctuary since 2004, and that its attacks there have dramatically increased since 2011.
Comolli says a Cameroon border task force was assembled to fend off Boko Haram, and while it has been successful at keeping the group from penetrating deeper into Cameroon, it has not been able to seal its border with Nigeria or keep it from impacting the border population, much of which is Muslim.
There are five observations here. First, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria said in December 2015 that Boko Haram had been “technically defeated.” It is not clear what he meant by this phrase, but it is obvious that Boko Haram is not defeated in any way, shape, or form. Its operations in Nigeria and neighboring countries, including Cameroon, continue nearly unabated. Past Nigerian campaigns to root out this group were largely based on destroying its ability to fight, but Nigeria did not address the core insurgent issues at stake. As a result, the group fights on.
Second, the border guard force that Cameroon has assembled needs to be reinforced and expanded. It also needs to adopt counterinsurgency tactics, techniques, and procedures to blunt Boko Haram’s religious propaganda and infiltration schemes.
Third, from the demographics of the suicide bombers mentioned above, there is no reason to believe that Boko Haram will halt suicide operations any time soon. Boko has proven that its recruiting for these operations is effective. It preys on the young, the susceptible, and those who have inferior status in Islamist jihadist society; females, in particular.
Fourth, the mosque attacks are likely symptomatic of Boko Haram adopting an ISIS strategy of “purifying” its version of Islam by exterminating other sects from existence. In the Middle East and South Asia, this has been done by attacking Shia mosques. In Cameroon, Boko Harm’s targets appear to be the Tijaniyya people who are Sufi Muslims. Islamist jihadists consider Sufis heretics.
Fifth, the Boko Haram problem will continue into the long term. Nigeria and neighboring countries can engage and defeat large-scale Boko Haram light infantry formations, but this will only cause the group to change its operational paradigm. It can easily scale down its massed light infantry operations and switch to smaller disbursed or distributed operations. This is exactly what al Shabaab did in Somalia after fighting conventional forces from neighboring countries such as Kenya. Boko Haram can even downsize from there and carry out terrorist operations such as the village and mosque attacks mentioned here. It is a flexible and resilient force to be reckoned with.
Nigeria, in order to defeat Boko Haram, needs to activate a well-planned and managed counterinsurgency war across security, political/religious, and economic spectrums. It needs to include neighboring countries in this endeavor. Otherwise, Boko Haram will continue to be a scourge in West Africa, and it could potentially expand operations and become more vicious as it furthers the ISIS brand of global Islamist jihadist revolution.
Sources and further reading:
“8 killed, 45 injured in double suicide attack at a funeral in northern Cameroon,” Africanews.com, 10 February 2016.
“Suicide bombers kill 32, wound dozens in northern Cameroon,” Reuters, 26 January 2016.
“Suicide bomber kills at least 12 in Cameroon mosque,” Reuters, 13 January 2016.
Virginia Comolli, Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Islamist Insurgency, Hurst and Company, 2015.
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