With membership ranging between 6,000 and 30,000 today, Boko Haram has established itself in Africa as one of the deadliest terrorist groups in the world through its renewed criminal activities. According to the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) 2019, the organization is still the most active African terrorist group, despite divisions within it. This situation which led to a declaration of war against Boko Haram by the presidents of Niger, Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Benin, with the added bonus of an announcement of a pooling of forces at the Summit on Security in Africa on May 17, 2014, in Paris, are struggling to achieve its main objective: the complete eradication of Boko Haram terrorist sect. This blatant lack of definitive results, despite the Covid-19 crisis and the call for a ceasefire in all world conflicts the group recently carried out one of the group’s deadliest attacks against an African army. An event that led Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno to take the responsibility of leading the offensive in a colossal response called Operation ‘Wrath of Bomo’.
Boko Haram, Covid-19 and the rejection of the cease-fire
The Global Terrorism Index (GTI), produced annually by the Institute for Economics and Peace, defines terrorism as the threat or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to achieve a political, economic, religious or social objective through fear, coercion or intimidation. In this exercise, Boko Haram, which began as a sect that advocated radical and rigid Islamic teachings and hostility to all Western influence, quickly became an organization that does not respect any code of honor; attacking children, churches and schools at the same time. Reputed to be particularly violent and classified in 2014 by the International Center for Studies on Radicalization and Political Violence (ICSR) as the “fiercest group in the world”, the terrorist group has particularly sophisticated weapons. All of these have contributed to casting doubt on the ability of the sect to observe a ceasefire, even in times of a health crisis such as the one the world is currently experiencing.
At a time when the whole world is facing an unprecedented pandemic that has already claimed thousands of lives, concerns about the preservation of ill-equipped refugee camps have increased. In an attempt to stem the spread of Covid-19, which has been described as a “common enemy”, Antonio Guerres, the United Nations Secretary General, quickly sounded the alarm in the form of a warning. In his call for a ceasefire on March 23, 2020, he reiterated the main urgency of the moment, which is to silence all temptations and wage a common war against the coronavirus.
He said “(…) the storm of Covid-19 is now arriving in all places of conflict. (…) the worst is yet to come.” Except that at the end of all these pleas, Boko Haram took advantage of the shift of attention as a result of the ongoing health crisis to strike the Chadian army. Marked by this attack, Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno, in a tweet on his page on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, condemned the lack of humanism of Boko Haram as the world faces a threat that goes beyond all conflicts. “While we are fighting against the coronavirus, the enlightened people of Boko Haram attacked our armed forces in Lake Chad”.
Boko Haram, a major threat in the Lake Chad Basin
After a quiet moment observed since the end of 2018, the Lake Chad basin has seen a resurgence of terrorist attacks from Boko Haram since March 2019. These attacks have not spared any country in the sub-region. Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria and Chad have all been hit and hundreds of people have been killed. According to a UN report that provides figures, the conflict has caused about 35,000 deaths and nearly 2 million displaced in north-eastern Nigeria alone since 2009. Violence in Cameroon’s Far North Region has also escalated in recent months and, according to Amnesty International, 275 people were killed in jihadist attacks in 2019. In Niger, the number of soldiers killed in attacks between January and December 2019 rose to 174.
The case of Chad is much more peculiar, as the country has recorded innumerable assaults in recent times. According to the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) 2019, which establishes a ranking of the countries most affected by terrorist attacks in the world, Chad, with a terrorism-related death index up by +34, ranks 5th among African countries, behind Nigeria (+508), Mali (+286), Mozambique (+110) and Burkina Faso (+40). This index must be quickly revised upwards for this first quarter of the year 2020 since the country recorded, on 23 March 2020, the most deadly attack perpetrated against its army.
In an attack in Boma, in the Lake Chad Province, the terrorist sect killed 92 Chadian soldiers and injured 47 others; destroying armored army vehicles and taking away military equipment. According to Emmanuel Grégoire, Director of Research Emeritus of the Institute of Research for Development (IRD), who analyses the situation, “This is a spectacular attack for Boko Haram, which has never before caused so many victims against an army, especially against the Chadian army, which is the most powerful in the region”. For Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno, who appeared to be deeply affected by this attack and who refuses to defeat by it, announced that “the response must be tremendous.”
Chad’s energetic riposte against Boko Haram, the “Bomo’s wrath” operation
Immediately after the attacks that left 92 Chadian army personnel dead, the Head of State, Idriss Deby, personally went to the scene of the attack. With the aim of coordinating the response, known as Operation “Bomo Wrath”, he appeared in a military attire to direct air, land and river operations against the terrorist group. From his new military operations center in Lake Province, he set the course. “We are going to war against Boko Haram. There will be deaths, there will be injuries. But this is the only way we can protect ourselves and preserve our stability”. To that end, and given the risks of exposure and the complicity of the populations living in the targeted areas, he announced that all the populations on the border with Niger and Nigeria will be displaced inside Chadian territory.
After 6 days of preparation and, with the agreement of Niger and Nigeria, where Chadian soldiers were deployed to carry out operation “Bomo’s wrath”, the cleaning of the island area has effectively begun as announced by the Chadian Minister of National Defense, General Mahamat Abbali Salah. The first repercussions of this large-scale operation are visible with the neutralization of several important sect command posts within Chadian borders and the capture of Abubakar Shekau’s deputy No. 1, Darul Tawhid alias Abacha Abdullahi Geidam.
Following his capture and after days of fighting, the Chadian president announced that they had achieved all their objectives. According to him, the first phase of the operation has been a success since, according to his explanations, “in the whole of the insular zone (…) there is not a single Boko Haram left in Chad today (…). The little that remains has returned to Niger, Nigeria or Cameroon (…). The clean-up continues. It’s over as far as our country is concerned, so there is no more terrorism now”. The only shadow in the picture is that the Chadian president deplores the fact that he is the only one to bear the brunt of the war against Boko Haram. He blames his neighbors for a lack of commitment while his army has obtained results and a combination of actions could have been the end of the existence of the Islamic sect.
Article from AFRIC Editorial
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