Boko Haram mil­i­tants ‘up to 6 000 strong’

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

WASH­ING­TON — The Is­lamist mil­i­tant group, Boko Haram, which is fight­ing a vi­o­lent in­sur­gency in north­east Nige­ria, has about 4 000-6 000 “hard­core” fighters, US in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials have said.

In an as­sess­ment of the group, whose fiveyear up­ris­ing has in­cluded mas­sacres and kid­nap­pings and spread from Nige­ria into neigh­bour­ing states, the of­fi­cials said they did not be­lieve it posed a ma­jor threat to Nige­ria’s oil­fields in the south.

The of­fi­cials, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity, said the mil­i­tants were be­lieved to be still hold­ing about 300 school­girls they kid­napped early last year and had dis­persed them to mul­ti­ple lo­ca­tions.

Around 10 000 peo­ple were killed in Boko Haram at­tacks last year. The Sunni Mus­lim group poses the big­gest se­cu­rity threat in Nige­ria, Africa’s top oil pro­ducer and big­gest econ­omy.

Con­cern over the in­sur­gency ap­pears to be one of the main rea­sons for what ap­pears to be a surge in po­lit­i­cal sup­port for op­po­si­tion leader Muham­madu Buhari.

Many Nige­ri­ans be­lieve Gen­eral Buhari, as a for­mer mil­i­tary ruler, will be able to bol­ster the army’s hap­less ef­forts to counter the in­sur­gency, and that as a Mus­lim he may even be able to take some of the wind out of Boko Haram’s ide­o­log­i­cal sails.

The of­fi­cials said the mil­i­tants had been en­gag­ing in both small-scale and larger at­tacks in re­cent weeks and they ex­pected this mixed pat­tern of op­er­a­tions to con­tinue dur­ing the elec­tion pe­riod.

The US in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials said the Nige­rian mil­i­tary forces were stretched thin in fight­ing the in­sur­gents, as well as by their in­volve­ment in in­ter­na­tional peace­keep­ing forces.

But mil­i­tary forces in neigh­bour­ing Cameroon, Chad and Niger, where Boko Haram had spread its at­tacks, were tak­ing an in­creas­ingly ac­tive role in com­bat­ing the group.

One of­fi­cial said: “It re­mains to be seen how much tac­ti­cal prow­ess (Boko Haram) have” in fight­ing regular mil­i­tary forces.

Sources in the re­gion say Chad and Cameroon are de­ploy­ing thou­sands of troops and Niger has re­in­forced its bor­der against the mil­i­tant group, but they face an up­hill battle against a group which has re­buffed of­fen­sives by the Nige­rian mil­i­tary.

The of­fi­cials said over the last year Boko Haram had es­tab­lished a “safe haven” in ter­ri­tory it con­trolled, which in­cluded 30 or more towns and vil­lages.

The group, which says it wants to es­tab­lish an Is­lamic state, has pro­duced videos prais­ing the Is­lamic State mil­i­tants who have taken over parts of Iraq and Syria.

But one of the US of­fi­cials said there was “no known tac­ti­cal co­op­er­a­tion or lead­er­ship con­tact be­tween the two groups.”

Nige­ria’s elec­toral com­mis­sion has post­poned elec­tions due on 14 Fe­bru­ary to 28 March.

Gen­eral Buhari has called for calm in the coun­try and cau­tioned against any vi­o­lence fol­low­ing post­pone­ment of elec­tions.

— Reuters.

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