Chad to the Rescue - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Chad to the Rescue

Gamboru has a few things going for it, and would have even more, were the Lake Chad region booming. Situated one of the trans-Africa trade routes, in the east and north of Nigeria’s northeastern state of Borno, it is on the road to Maiduguri, if you are coming from Chad or Cameroon, and Maiduguri is where the action is, up here in the impoverished and war-torn Sahel, the great stretch of Savannah and desert that makes a belt across the Continent below the Sahara. 

According to reports, Boko Haram fighters encircled the city last week after terrorizing the surrounding region, and launched an assault on the weekend.

Maiduguri is the capital of  Borno state, a big hub and with an airport and roads into the Nigerian interior. While it does not carry the symbolism of a town like Timbuktu in northern Mali, which Islamist insurgents seized in 2012 and held for a year before being chased out by French and African troops, its economic and political importance is greater, and it would be a big psychological and political blow to Nigeria if it were seized, even briefly, by the same kinds of bad guys who grabbed Mali’s Sahel-Sahara regions. 

The Nigerians trying to turn the Sahel into a caliphate are called Boko Haram, and they are very bad indeed. By some expert estimates, they have killed or displaced well over a million people in the Nigerian northeast in the past year alone. The extremely brutal attacks of the past weeks are likely to intensify, as Boko Haram, which despises democracy and everything it deems “Western,” tries to derail the February 14 Nigerian elections. 

They do this in the name of Islam. They kill Muslims, though; they have been making repeat attacks on Gen. (ret.) Muhammadu Buhari, himself a rigorous Muslim who, during a stint as state governor in this region, favored imposing sharia, at least in civil matters. Gen. Buhari, as standard bearer of the All Progressives Congress, is challenging the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, whose People’s Democratic Party has been in power at the federal level since the restoration of democracy in 1999. The consensus among Nigeria-watchers is that the election is up for grabs.

Nigerian military spokesmen, as reported in African news outlets, have been announcing the defeat of the past weekend’s assault on Maiduguri. The government  claims the counter-attack killed hundreds of Boko Haram fighters coming at the city from the south, and that Nigerian troops were aided by local militia. 

The role of militia in the counter-insurgency has been widely acknowledged. The  government evidently prefers to give credit where it is due and to implicitly approve a mass mobilization against terrorism, than to downplay an aspect of the security situation that implicitly raises questions about its security policy. 

U.S.-Nigerian military cooperation is at a low point, with the American side not denying suggestions that it is holding back on arms deliveries. Africa Command has been critical of its Nigerian counterparts’ accounting credibility, while other agencies and NGOs  have voiced concern about Nigerian army and police behavior in battleground areas, meaning lack of attention to human rights and to the collateral damage caused by sometimes heavy-handed tactics.

Regardless of such concerns, however, and with or without U.S. Army advice and equipment, the northeast of Nigeria is by all reports at a critical juncture. The fate of Maiduguri is sure to be linked to a reported deliverance by Chadian forces of Gamboru, which Boko Haram fighters held for months. 

The African Union encouraged the formation of a 7,500-strong all-African intervention force for Nigeria’s northeast, at a meeting held last week in Addis-Ababa.  Chad already had taken the lead in proposing a joint force of front line states (itself, Cameroon, and Niger), but appears to have swung into action in order to make sure the African Union did not have second thoughts.

As to how the force will be financed and equipped, ministries in Paris and London — and Washington — probably are playing telephone tag with their African homologues. The Chadians are used to making due with whatever they have. If they can continue their drive to restore some security to Boko Haram-held or terrorized towns, and contribute to relieving the pressure on Maiduguri, they may yet do what — with all due respect for different strategic situations — the U.S. and others failed, through procrastination, to do in Syria: pre-empt the consolidation of an Islamic State (or caliphate) in a region where, like it or not, the war against the West is raging.

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