By Jay Holmes
On April 14, 2014, a Boko Haram gang attacked a girls school in Chibok, Nigeria. After killing the armed guards at the school, the gang kidnapped 234 girls and possibly a dozen adult staff members. The attack captured the attention of the Western media, and the kidnapped girls have become something of a cause celeb in the West.
This is not the first time that Boko Haram has kidnapped children.
For several years, they have been enslaving girls and pressing boys as young as twelve into jihadi service with little notice by the international media. This particular attack generated so much attention because the children’s families were not present at the school to be murdered or kidnapped–something Boko Haram has done in the past. This time, hundreds of distraught community members survived to speak up for the missing girls. Western military and intelligence authorities have had an eye on Boko Haram for about ten years. In the last five years, they have been particularly violent. This latest caper has now made them a household name in the West.
One predictable response to the kidnapping comes from NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. According to Mitchell, the male-dominated U.S. government has been slow to respond due to sexism. In an interview with U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) on May 14, Mitchell stated, “It really calls into question whether the men in charge of our government, frankly, would have been responding more quickly, . . . despite Goodluck Jonathan, the president of Nigeria’s opposition, whether they would have been responding more rapidly if it had been schoolgirls, if it hadn’t been some other premise.” (This is an actual quote.)
I can rarely find a reason to praise Senator Feinstein, but on this occasion, she remained calm and was significantly more articulate than Mitchell. The Senator managed to state Mitchell’s botched question for her and answered it by responding with, “You mean if it had involved school boys? No.” To no avail, Mitchell feebly continued to press the point. U.S. Senators have more than enough work to do, and they shouldn’t have to conduct both sides of an interview.
So who are these latest media terrorist stars, and how might Western taxpayers respond to them?
Who the Boko Haram are depends on who you ask. One common trait throughout the group’s members is their tendency to travel on motorcycles through the forests and deserts of northern Nigeria, making them an African Jihadi Biker Gang. A decent motorcycle is a Boko Haram terrorist’s most prized possession.
Generally, most Western media vendors view the Boko Haram as an al-Qaeda affiliate in Nigeria. Actually, the al-Qaeda affiliation is, at most, minimal, and, in my view, there is no clear evidence of any actual material support for Boko Haram from al-Qaeda. Also, the particular version of vaguely Islamic religious dogma that Boko Haram claims to be espousing is not a version of Islam that al-Qaeda would tolerate. Unlike the al-Qaeda Sunni mainstream, Boko Haram terrorists are loosely Salafi Muslims. Their vaguely identifiable founder that rose to prominence in the 1980s, Mohammed Marwa, a.k.a. Maitatsine, even said that Mohammed was not actually a prophet. In fact, if the Boko Haram lived in mainstream al-Qaeda neighborhoods, they would have to quickly convert to al-Qaeda’s brand of Islam or face execution. Calling themselves Islamic and conducting criminal rampages is enough to meet the al-Qaeda international membership standard, but only while they remain out of reach of true al-Qaeda.
Not all Western military and intelligence officials share my view. Some folks at the Pentagon and elsewhere feel that Boko Haram is a full-fledged al-Qaeda brand terrorist franchise. I disagree. In any case, though, Boko Haram style mayhem was popular in Nigeria long before al-Qaeda was born. Rebranding that mayhem has little impact on Boko Haram or on their victims.
Boko Haram is not a single organization. There are at least three major groupings of them spread across northern Nigeria. Their current maggot-in-chief, Abubakar Shekau, has direct control of perhaps half of the Boko Haram members. Many of the rest are spread out in remote areas and don’t seem to be under any command/control apparatus to a centralized leadership. It’s entirely possible that some of them have never even heard of al-Qaeda.
In spite of their lack of strong organizational skills, the Boko Haram are a significant problem for Nigerians. According to African news sources, they have murdered between ten and fifteen thousand civilians in the last five years and have kidnapped thousands more. They claim they are Islamic and want to institute Sharia law, but they constantly violate basic Sharia precepts themselves with their outright theft from and murder of Islamics, along with non-Islamics.
The Boko Haram’s basic reason for existing is stated as an anti-Western/anti-corruption agenda. Their name translates roughly to “Westernization is forbidden.” The rampant corruption and gross incompetence of the government of Nigeria has provided them with fertile ground in which to grow. However, the recent kidnapping of the 234 girls from the school in Chibok will likely further tarnish their image and further delegitimize them as a religious or anti-corruption group.
The Nigerian government has not shown itself capable of exercising legitimate authority over the northern half of Nigeria. They haven’t done a great job in southern Nigeria either. In 2010-2013, operations conducted by the Nigerian Army in northern Nigeria succeeded in driving Boko Haram out of their comfortable urban strongholds, but thousands of them remain at large in rural northern areas.
So precisely how “should” the West respond?
Western responses to the kidnapping so far have been understandably minimal. Given the prevalence of mayhem across Africa and the Middle East, and with a rampantly corrupt government in charge of Nigeria, what exactly can the U.S. and other Western nations commit in rescuing the girls?
Earlier this month during a visit to Ethiopia, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, “The kidnapping of hundreds of children by Boko Haram is an unconscionable crime, and we will do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and to hold the perpetrators to justice.” (The emphasis is mine.) Wow. Everything possible? When does the 1st Marine Division arrive in Nigeria, and when do the bombings start? Will we use nukes? Probably not. Those few members of Boko Haram that may have heard about Kerry’s threat are likely not too convinced.
Thus far, the Organization of African Unity has condemned the kidnappings. It is possible that they will eventually muster a military force to enter northern Nigeria to assist the Nigerian military in a campaign against the Boko Haram. Thus far, though the move was initially opposed by the Nigerian government, the U.K. has sent a small contingent of Special Forces to Nigeria. Both the U.S. and the U.K. are providing the Nigerian government with intelligence and reconnaissance information. The official position about whether or not there are U.S. Special Forces in Nigeria is not yet clear. The U.S. government thus far states that it is considering sending U.S. Special Forces to Nigeria.
What is completely clear is that any assistance given to the Nigerian government should not take the form of financial aid or military hardware. Nigeria has the natural resources required for the elimination of poverty and unemployment. What it lacks is an effective government. If the U.S. government decides to conduct anti-Boko Haram operations in Nigeria, it should do so directly. The state of the Nigerian national government clearly indicates that any aid in money or goods will be wasted and may possibly end up in the hands of Boko Haram or other similar gangsters. I have suggested to the Pentagon that NBC Chief Foreign Analyst Andrea Mitchell be parachuted into northern Nigeria to straighten things out. The Pentagon has yet to respond to my suggestion.
Without fundamental changes in the culture and government of Nigeria, outsiders have little chance of eradicating mayhem in that country. The U.S. taxpayers would have little stomach for any large-scale involvement there. However, it is possible that, with small-scale covert action backed up by drone operators and good reconnaissance, the kidnapped girls could be rescued. Any covert operation conducted by outsiders in Nigeria will only remain “covert” to the Boko Haram until the first shot is fired or the first drone attack is launched. Hope remains for the kidnapped girls, but for the broader problems in Nigeria, hope is in short supply.
Good article, Holmes. What do you think of the proposition that if the Nigerian Government needs help,in the form of overt boots on the ground, they should come from other African nations, since if there are US boots on the ground, it will just become another jihadi-magnet for someone looking to get some action by attacking Americans. If my memory is correct, troops from other African countries pitched in to restore order in Uganda at the end of Idi Amin’s reign, and there have been other examples.
Hi Richard. Thank you for your excellent question. There have been some open source reports of “thirty US Special Forces troops” having been dispatched to Nigeria, but statements by Congress and the Pentagon press releases don’t consistently verify that. We shall soon see what information Congress will decide to release. In addition to the few troops that the UK has sent, they would constitute more of a coaching and auditing team.
I agree with your suggestion that the OAS can and should send African troops to help Nigeria. The OAS has proven to be capable of carrying out reasonably disciplined military operations. Reports of OAS controlled troops looting and raping have decreased over the last few years. If Nigeria accepts foreign intervention, I hope that the OAS will provide the bulk of the troops. The OAS lacks advanced reconnaissance tools, such as satellites and high quality drones, so I can see the UK and US playing a useful role in Nigeria with less than 120 troops total from the UK and US.
Thanks for the perspective, Holmes. I hate thinking about what these kids are going through. We are so blessed to live in a nation where mass kidnappings are not the norm.
Hi Jenny. I, too, am glad that mass child abductions are not the norm in the USA, but I can’t help remember that thousands of children in the USA are kidnapped every year. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, about 155/year are non-family-related kidnappings. About 100 children per year are murdered by their abductors.
Thanks in part to the fantastic work done by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the present recovery rate for abducted children in the USA has risen to %97. That’s a great success story, but it still leaves a lot of children and their families suffering terribly.
Every parent should keep the hot line number for the NCMEC in their phones in case their child or a neighbor’s child goes missing. It is 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).
Thank you I had no idea how long this maggots had been kidnapping children, maggot in charge is a great title btw. I am grateful to have a you as a source of information. I always feel like the news twists things to their own agenda, and I can’t scrap the fact, fiction, and carefully tweaked fiction apart.
Thank you for your visit Alica. I try to be as objective as I can be and be as obvious as I can be when being subjective.
Von Heisenberg received credit for the idea that molecular activity can not be measured without the measuring process impacting the molecules. Since Von Heisenberg supported the Nazi agenda and happily turned on his many Jewish colleagues, and since he was caught in major lies after WW2, I prefer to assume that he likely just stole the work of Liz Meitner and others.
The same laws seem to apply to news reporting. In honor of Meitner and her many betrayed colleagues, I propose that we call it the “Meitner News Uncertainty Principal.” It’s always best to hear more than one point of view.
On behalf of maggots everywhere, I’m offended that the Boko Haram leader is referred to as “Maggot-in-chief”. Maggots perform a great service to the world and are merely misunderstood. Abubakar Shekau, on the other hand, appears to be performing no useful function and should be provided as food for maggots at the earliest possible opportunity.