Boko Haram Is Weakening, but Its Decline Will Be Violent and Uneven

Boko Haram Is Weakening, but Its Decline Will Be Violent and Uneven
People stand behind burnt out cars after a suicide bombing in Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria, Feb. 17, 2017 (AP photo by Hamza Suleiman).

Boko Haram, the Nigeria-based jihadi movement affiliated with the self-proclaimed Islamic State, has been in decline for more than two years, since it began to lose territory around Lake Chad under joint military pressure from Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. After retreating from major towns in northeastern Nigeria such as Bama and Mubi, Boko Haram now controls only certain remote rural areas in that corner of the country. But even though its strength peaked back in 2015, Boko Haram is still a major threat to Nigeria and its neighbors, as the group’s decline has been uneven and frequently punctuated by shocking attacks.

Consider the military situation on the ground, which has improved from the summer of 2015, when Boko Haram was conducting a fearsome campaign of revenge against Niger, Chad and Cameroon. One recent study found that in 2016, Boko Haram’s attacks fell by 29 percent compared with 2015, and the group inflicted 73 percent fewer casualties. Data for northern Cameroon show that after two deadly winters—2014-2015 and 2015-2016—Boko Haram has been less powerful. In December, Nigerian forces raided Boko Haram camps in Nigeria’s Sambisa forest, one of the sect’s last remaining bastions.

Nevertheless, Boko Haram has repeatedly defied the Nigerian government’s claims that it is on the verge of defeat. Already this year, Boko Haram has conducted several suicide bombings in northeastern Nigeria. Battles between the Nigerian military and Boko Haram still occur in and around villages, with Boko Haram often holding its own. The Nigerian press now warns of the group’s “resurgence.”

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