Region of Concern: Nigeria
Written By Aleksandr Thomas; Edited by Amy McGee
Date: December 6, 2022
Borno State, Nigeria
Event: On December 6, 2022, Boko Haram killed 33 wives of Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) militants in Sambisa, Borno State, Nigeria. Since December 3, a top Boko Haram commander, Ali Ngulde, has conducted a campaign against the group in the Sambisa Forest and its surrounding villages. The campaign began as an ambush that resulted in the death of at least 12 ISWAP fighters, and has continued with each group conducting ambushes and assassinations of local commanders. This attack was achieved by Boko Haram fighters recognizing an upcoming ambush in nearby Garin Abbah village and detouring to attack the ISWAP settlement in Sambisa. Both groups are armed with assault and heavy weapons.
Significance: There are two major concerns here. First, this attack was very likely meant to demoralize and distract ISWAP fighters from their ongoing operations. It is almost certain that ISWAP will retaliate, and this will likely take the form of a strike on Boko Haram-held depots or rural villages. Such reprisals are very likely to lead to civilians being killed, used as hostages, or equipment being seized for future attacks. Second, the ease with which both groups are operating throughout Borno State indicates that the Nigerian Armed Forces likely have little control over rural areas. There is a roughly even chance that this will increase civilian rural flight to urban centers within and outside Borno State, straining government emergency and security service resources. There is a roughly even chance that the government’s lack of control will also drive recruitment for Boko Haram and ISWAP, as allegiance to one group may provide greater security than simply relying on the central government for protection during hostilities.
Recommendations: The Nigerian Government should actively secure non-urban centers throughout Borno to interdict Boko Haram and ISWAP movements. This could be accomplished by deploying additional soldiers to Borno State and establishing rural checkpoints that limit terrorists’ movements between localities. Nigeria’s State Security Service should partner with local leaders capable of boosting HUMINT and SIGINT capabilities in rural areas, so that it can identify militants’ movements and recruit local agents to monitor suspicious activities. The government should also invest in the development of food security and educational programs in rural Borno, which will likely increase future economic opportunities for locals and raise their standard of living. This should be coupled with the construction of mosques, and the education of imams who can de-radicalize and help former jihadists reintegrate into wider Nigerian society. These initiatives would help combat the underlying insecurities that drive radical groups’ recruitment and limit the environments in which radical ideology can be propagated. These initiatives should also be complemented with diplomatic talks, that include neighboring Chad, Niger, and Cameroon, to increase mutual military support that will likely work to deny cross-border safe havens for these groups in the Lake Chad Region and warn civilians of imminent attacks.