Thursday, 15 September 2016

Niger becoming new Boko Haram target - analysts

Maiduguri - Niger is increasingly becoming a
target for Boko Haram attack
, as the Islamists
come under sustained military pressure in
Nigeria while reeling under a leadership
struggle, analysts said Thursday.
Despite a decline in the frequency of attacks
this year in northeastern Nigeria, the experts
warned of escalating raids across the border,
especially in Niger.
"Niger's southern border with Nigeria represents
a relatively soft flank for Boko Haram,
particularly in its eastern stretches," Roddy
Barclay, intelligence analyst at consultancy firm
Africa Practice, told AFP.
"The porous national border is under-policed
and adjoins some of the most insecure
territories in northeastern Nigeria."
IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre
(JTIC) said Boko Haram carried out 22 attacks
into Cameroon, Chad and Niger in 2014 and 62
in 2015, when it aligned with the Islamic State
group.
There were 41 cross-border attacks this year
until the end of August with Niger bearing the
brunt of the violence, including a raid on a
military base near the southeastern town of
Bosso in June in which at least 26 soldiers
were killed.
"Before Boko Haram allied with the Islamic
State, it did carry out cross-border attacks
outside their core territory of north eastern
Nigeria," said Matthew Henman, head of IHS
JTIC.
"But since 2015, the number of cross-border
operations rose dramatically as the group
retaliated against the West African coalition
fighting to defeat them."
Military’s version
Henman said the Bosso attack - and
subsequent strikes against government and
other military targets in the region - indicated a
shift in Boko Haram to ISIS methods.
This focused "less on the indiscriminate killing
of fellow Muslims and more on targeting
regional security forces".
IS announced in August that Abu Musab al-
Barnawi - the son of Boko Haram's founder
Mohammed Yusuf - had replaced Abubakar
Shekau as head of the group, which now styles
itself Islamic State West Africa Province
(ISWAP).
Barnawi has criticised Shekau for the
indiscriminate killing of fellow Muslims: at least
20 000 people have been killed in northeast
Nigeria in a wave of raids, suicide attacks and
bombings since 2009.
The shadowy Shekau has maintained he is still
in charge but there have been recent reports of
clashes between rival factions in the north of
northeast Nigeria's Borno state, near Lake
Chad.
JTIC said it still expected attacks on civilians
from the Shekau camp to continue, while those
aligned with Barnawi would conduct operations
against the military and government.
The upsurge in attacks in Niger was an
indication Boko Haram may have already begun
to regroup, contradicting the military's version
that it was on the run and struggling, Henman
told AFP.
He also said the jihadists' aim appeared to be
to undermine the Multi-National Joint Task
Force of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and
Benin, which is operating in the Lake Chad
region against them.
Overstretched military?
The regional force, whose deployment has been
long delayed, depends on coordination and
cooperation between countries not known for
working together or sharing mutual trust - and
Boko Haram could play on that, said Henman.
"ISIS has been very good at picking apart
alliances and coalitions, pitting allies against
one another. They will try to sow discord in
that coalition," Henman said.
Nigeria is facing security threats on multiple
fronts: Boko Haram in the northeast; ethnic
violence in the central region; Biafran
separatists in the southeast; and oil rebels in
the south.
"The military build-up (in northeast Nigeria)
can't be sustained indefinitely", even if the
threat in the Niger delta does not develop, he
added.
While Nigeria boasts one of the largest armies
in Africa, Barclay warned that fighting multiple
fronts could expose political mismanagement
and corruption in the military and undermine
recent gains.
"The military technically has the resources to
operate on two fronts," Barclay said. "But it
risks becoming stretched and seeing some of
its internal dysfunction exposed," he said.
"Any shortfalls in discipline, management and
logistics are likely to be accentuated."