An oath of allegiance from Boko Haram, the Nigeria-based militant group, to the Islamic State on Saturday reinforces Western fears that the terrorist group is growing beyond its base in Iraq and Syria. These worries have prompted American and allied commandos to rush to train African counterterrorism troops to fight extremists on the continent.
The expanding effort here on the edge of the Sahara to fight militancies like Boko Haram comes as the group has kidnapped schoolgirls, slaughtered thousands of people, and now has expanded its attacks from Nigeria into Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
“When your neighbor’s house is burning, you have to put it out, because if not, yours is next,” said Lt. Col. Brahim Mahanat, a Chadian Army officer who spoke during the Pentagon’s annual military exercise with 1,200 African troops, United States Army Special Forces and other Western commandos, which ends on Monday.
More than any exercise in the past decade, this year’s training — three weeks of marksmanship, mock ambushes and patrols in harsh desert terrain — is bumping up against real-world operations. The Chadian capital, Ndjamena, is just 30 miles from militant-held territory in Nigeria, and Boko Haram has vowed revenge since Chad began cross-border attacks against the militants. Police officers and army troops have stepped up patrols in the capital in response to increased risks, including suicide bombings.
Boko Haram has, in the meantime, pushed more than 200,000 Nigerian refugees across the border into neighboring countries. And on Saturday, three explosions rocked the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri, killing dozens of people in the worst attack there since suspected Islamist militants tried to seize it in January.
“Boko Haram is not just a threat to our country or to Africa,” said Brig. Gen. Zakaria Ngobongue, a senior Chadian officer who has trained in France and at Hurlburt Field, Fla., and is overseeing this year’s exercise. “They are an international threat.”
The Obama administration agrees.
New Boko Haram propaganda videos, including beheadings, mirror the releases of the Islamic State and had officials in Washington and European capitals watching to see if the two terrorist groups would draw closer together.
The announcement by the Boko Haram leadership that it had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, was still being analyzed on Saturday by Western counterterrorism officials, who said the proclamation appeared to be legitimate.
Officials suggested that Boko Haram, by aligning itself more closely with the Islamic State, was seeking to elevate its standing in the jihadi world, attract foreign fighters and possibly win financing from the militants.
“By allying with ISIS, Boko Haram is seeking greater validation in the global jihadi community,” said Laith Alkhouri, a senior analyst at Flashpoint Global Partners, a security consulting firm that tracks militant websites.
But American intelligence analysts said it remained unclear what specific fighting capabilities, if any, the relationship would add to Boko Haram, or how soon.
Boko Haram seized the world’s attention last April when it kidnapped nearly 300 teenage girls in Nigeria. While some girls escaped the initial abduction, none have been found since, and many are believed to have been married off to Boko Haram fighters. Last summer, the United States committed $40 million over the next three years to help Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon develop more effective border security and long-range patrolling, and to pay for weapons, ammunition, night-vision goggles and radios.
SOURCE: ERIC SCHMITT
The New York Times