Nigeria: Lost And Found In The Sambisa Forest


May 5, 2015: The army advance into the last Boko Haram stronghold, the Sambisa Forest, has uncovered the main Boko Haram camps and captured most of them. Since April troops have been making their way through this large (60,000 square kilometers), hilly, sparsely populated area where the borders of Borno, Yobe and Adamwa states meet. It has long been a hideout for Boko Haram and since 2014 has been under constant aerial surveillance by Nigerian and American aircraft. Thus the troops on the ground had a lot of information, but were warned to be careful about things you cannot spot from the air, like minefields and ambushes. The troops have two objectives; to find and kill or capture all Boko Haram in the area and to find and rescue the 2,000 women and girls kidnapped by Boko Haram over the last year.

This final push into the Sambisa Forest is done with the knowledge that thousands of Boko Haram gunmen have fled in this direction over the last few weeks. That’s because since February a coalition of troops from Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger have been chasing Boko Haram out of towns throughout Borno State. While many of the fleeing Boko Haram men deserted (or surrendered to the military) most went back to the Sambisa Forest bases where their leaders promised they would defeat all these soldiers in a final battle. That did not happen and the Boko Haram men were defeated in the forest causing many of them to lose faith in the inevitability of Boko Haram victory.

Recently captured Boko Haram men (and freed captives) report that over the last few weeks the unity and cohesiveness of the Islamic terrorist organization has broken down. In addition to men who simply deserted, there were many factions who renounced the Boko Haram leadership and tried to escape the army troops who were closing in on the last few camps. Many of the Boko Haram men openly accused the Boko Haram leadership for deceiving them, because now the army seemed unstoppable and it appeared that God was not on the side of the Islamic terrorists. When they had the opportunity the Boko Haram men would flee the advancing troops. Most of their female captives refused to flee with them and soldiers found at least 18 women who had been killed for refusing to accompany their Boko Haram “husbands”.  

So far nearly 40 percent of the 2,000 women and girls (most of them Christian) kidnapped by Boko Haram have been rescued. But so far there is no sign of the Chibok girls, the most famous of the Boko Haram kidnap victims. Chibok (located near the Sambisa forest) was where Boko Haram raided a boarding school in early 2014 and kidnapped 219 teenage girls. This was the first mass kidnapping and families of these girls have been pressuring the government to rescue these girls for over a year. It is hoped that talking to all the women rescued so far will provide some hints about where the Chibok girls are. The army also confirmed that some of the captured women had joined Boko Haram and at least twenty of them were killed while fighting alongside their Boko Haram husbands.

The defeat, if not the eradication, of Boko Haram was a big relief to the 70 million Nigerian Christians, who were most frequently the victims of Boko Haram violence. Boko Haram made no secret of its intention to destroy Christianity and kill all Christians who refused to convert to Islam.

The successful operation in the Sambisa forest has severely damaged Boko Haram but not destroyed the Islamic terror organization. Some factions were not in the Sambisa forest, where the main camps were. Hundreds of Boko Haram men will manage to sneak past the army cordon. Some of these will be able to reform and begin terrorizing again. Neighboring Niger and Cameroon report that there has been more movement of Boko Haram men into their territory and that troops and police are being sent to prevent the Islamic terrorists from establishing bases.

Because Boko Haram has killed over 13,000 people since 2009 and forced over 15 million to flee their homes, the Islamic terrorists will find themselves in a much more hostile atmosphere. While initially welcomed by many northern Moslems, because Boko Haram sought to deal with the corruption and bad government, the horrific violence the group used eventually eliminated most popular support. Most of the Boko Haram related deaths took place since early 2014 which is why there popular support has disappeared recently.

May 4, 2015: In central Nigeria (the border area between Plateau and Taraba states) troops fought with a Moslem Tarok tribal militia and killed over 30 tribesmen. This group was believed responsible for the killing and mutilation of six soldiers in April. At the same time some Moslem tribal leaders accused the army of allowing soldiers to attack Moslem villages in the area, in revenge for the recent killing of six soldiers. The revenge attacks left over 80 people dead and much property damage. Tribal violence in this area has been a problem for generations because Moslem and Christian tribes do not get along. The violence has gotten worse in the last few years. Moslem nomadic Fulani tribesmen have been fighting with Christian and pagan farmers in Plateau State and outside the city of Jos for years. The violence has gotten worse now and there were over a thousand casualties in 2013 and nearly as many in 2014. Boko Haram has claimed involvement, but that appears to be marginal. The Moslem tribes have long claimed that the government was sending Christian police to persecute them because of their religion (not because they were constantly attacking Christian farmers). The settled (farming) tribes have been there a long time and in the last few decades more Moslem tribesmen have come south looking for pasturage and water for their herds and have increasingly used force to get what they want.

May 3, 2015: In the northeast (Borno) soldiers arrested a man believed to be the chief supplier of food and fuel to Boko Haram. The local businessman was, along with others, suspected of doing business with the Islamic terrorists, who had plenty of money and stolen property to offer merchants who could deliver needed items. The increasing brutality of Boko Haram led more people to inform on those who were selling (and delivering) supplies to the Islamic terrorists. Thus eventually the army was able to track them down, disrupt deliveries and now the people in charge are being caught.

May 2, 2015: In the northeast (Borno) troops finally reached a major Boko Haram camp and rescued 234 women and children kidnapped by the Islamic terrorists. Boko Haram used the women for sex and labor around the camp. Thus most of the women were pregnant.

April 26, 2015: In the north (Karamga Island in Lake Chad) a Boko Haram assault on the island (which belongs to Niger) was repulsed. This left 146 Islamic terrorists, 46 soldiers and 28 civilians dead. On the 27th Niger authorities ordered civilians to evacuate the island until the army was certain that the threat of Boko Haram attack was taken care of. Lake Chad borders Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon.

April 25, 2015:  Boko Haram released a video in which it announced a merger with ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and a name change. Thus Boko Haram becomes ISWAP (Islamic State’s West Africa Province). ISIL was originally a Sunni nationalist Iraqi Islamic terrorist organization that renamed itself ISIL in 2013 when it expanded into Syria. Shortly thereafter it declared itself the “Islamic State” and the leader of a new global Islamic government (or caliphate). This was denounced by most Moslems but among Islamic radicals it became trendy to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State. One thing Boko Haram and ISIL have in common is a preference for extreme brutality. For this reason most other Islamic terror groups (like al Qaeda and the Taliban) oppose ISIL and often do so violently.

April 24, 2015: In the northeast (Borno) Chad soldiers rescued 43 children (none older than 12) recently kidnapped in Chad by Boko Haram. The rescue took place in the Nigerian town of Damasak, near the Niger border. Boko Haram apparently intended to use the children as slaves and indoctrinate the older ones to become Boko Haram fighters. The Chad troops have driven Boko Haram out of several towns along the Niger border and discovered that Boko Haram had killed hundreds of locals and kidnapped hundreds more as they fled.

April 23, 2015: In the northeast (Borno) over a thousand Boko Haram men attacked two towns (Kirenowa and Marte) on Lake Chad eventually forcing hundreds of defending soldiers to flee. Many of those Boko Haram later took boats from the lakeside fishing settlements and sought to seize the nearby island of Karamga. That attack failed. Kirenowa and Marte had recently been liberated by soldiers but most of the Boko Haram garrison had fled, apparently to get reinforcements. The army eventually came back and liberated the two towns again.

April 22, 2015: Thousands of troops began a final assault on large Boko Haram camps in the Sambisa Forest. Nigerian troops took the lead but soldiers from Chad and Cameroon were also involved.

April 17, 2015: In the southeast (Benue state) a tribal dispute over fishing rights and support for Fulani tribesmen left 23 dead. Such violence has been common in the area in 2015. Similar clashes in 2014 left over 400 dead in Benue state. The Moslem nomadic Fulani tribesmen have been fighting with Christian and pagan farmers in central and southeastern Nigeria for years and also raiding Moslem farmers in the north.

April 16, 2015: In the northeast, just across the border in Cameroon, Boko Haram attacked a village and killed 19 civilians, beheading most of them. 




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