Efforts to rescue kidnapped schoolgirls unlikely to alter Boko Haram’s course

By Jason Patrick

During his 8 May speech at the World Economic Forum on Africa, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan declared that Boko Haram’s recent abduction of 276 schoolgirls would mark the end of terrorism in Nigeria. Citing recent aid provided by international donors following the mid-April kidnapping in the restive Borno State, Jonathan suggested this incident would be the “beginning of the end of terror in Nigeria”.

Abuja’s response has been lackluster thus far with Jonathan recently acknowledging that his government has no idea about the girls’ whereabouts. Several nations, including the United Kingdom, France, China, and the United States are providing various levels of assistance to the government in order to locate and rescue the students. However, the effort has yet to yield results.

Goodluck Jonathan’s claim that domestic and international outrage over the kidnapping would lead to Boko Haram’s demise is perhaps over optimistic. Although an insurgency benefits greatly from the freedom-of-movement afforded to it by a supportive or acquiescent local population, action against Boko Haram will likely be insufficient to blunt the group’s ability to continue its anti-government campaign.

For its part, Boko Haram appears undeterred. Last week, the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau released a video statement claiming that he intended to sell the victims. On 4 May, militants abducted nearly a dozen more schoolgirls from Gwoza—a town near Chibok, where the previous girls were taken in April. Further demonstrating its ability to operate with impunity, on 7 May, Boko Haram militants attacked a busy market in nearby Gamboru Ngala, killing as many as 300 people.

France has been heavily involved in fighting Islamic extremists in western and sub-Saharan Africa, since launching a military intervention in Mali in early 2013. The French military has over 4,000 troops operating throughout the region in an attempt to prevent Islamist groups from operating freely through the porous borders between southern Libya, northern Chad, and Niger. France is also concerned that groups like Boko Haram are able to exploit security vacuums in Cameroon and the Central African Republic, threatening not only Nigeria, but regional states, as well. The French intelligence service, DGSE has sent a small team to augment the multi-national contingent attempting to locate the girls in Nigeria.

Even if international efforts to rescue the girls are successful, it will do little to deter Boko Haram from attempting similar attacks in the future. Insufficient security capabilities in Abuja, as well as inadequate multinational, interagency support to Nigeria will ensure continued economic, social, and security conditions conducive for Islamist militants to operate with relative impunity.

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Jason Patrick

Jason Patrick is an independent commentator on political and military affairs, and a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy News

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