|“||If you are a Muslim, you're a target. If you are a Christian, you're a target. They slaughter people like animals.||„|
|~ VICE News, "The War Against Boko Haram"|
The Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad (Arabic: جماعة اهل السنة للدعوة والجهاد Jamāʻat Ahl as-Sunnah lid-daʻwa wal-Jihād)—better known by its Hausa name Boko Haram (pronounced [bōːkòː hàrâm], "Western education is sinful")—is an Islamic jihadist and takfiri militant and terrorist organization based in the northeast of Nigeria, north Cameroon and Niger.
Founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002, the organisation seeks to establish a "pure" Islamic state ruled by sharia law, putting a stop to what it deems "Westernization". The group is known for attacking Christians and government targets, bombing churches, attacking schools and police stations, kidnapping western tourists, but has also assassinated members of the Islamic establishment. Violence linked to the Boko Haram insurgency has resulted in an estimated 10,000 deaths between 2002 and 2013.
Since March 2015, the group has been aligned with the The Islamic State. Since the current insurgency started in 2009, Boko Haram has killed tens of thousands and displaced 2.3 million from their homes and was at one time the world's deadliest terrorism group according to the Global Terrorism Index.
After its founding in 2002, Boko Haram's increasing radicalization led to the suppression operation by the Nigerian military forces and the summary execution of its leader Mohammed Yusuf in July 2009. Its unexpected resurgence, following a mass prison break in September 2010, was accompanied by increasingly sophisticated attacks, initially against soft targets, but progressing in 2011 to include suicide bombings of police buildings and the United Nations office in Abuja. The government's establishment of a state of emergency at the beginning of 2012, extended in the following year to cover the entire northeast of Nigeria, led to an increase in both security force abuses and militant attacks.
Of the 2.3 million people displaced by the conflict since May 2013, at least 250,000 have left Nigeria and fled into Cameroon, Chad or Niger. Boko Haram killed over 6,600 in 2014. The group have carried out mass abductions including the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in April 2014. Corruption in the security services and human rights abuses committed by them have hampered efforts to counter the unrest.
In mid-2014, the militants gained control of swathes of territory in and around their home state of Borno, estimated at 50,000 square kilometres (20,000 sq mi) in January 2015, but did not capture the state capital, Maiduguri, where the group was originally based. On 7 March 2015, Boko Haram's leader Abubakar Shekau pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, rebranding as Islamic State in West Africa. In September 2015, the Director of Information at the Defence Headquarters of Nigeria announced that all Boko Haram camps had been destroyed but attacks from the group continue. 2019 has seen the further decline of Boko Haram and the loss of much of the territory it once reportedly controlled.
In 2012, the U.S. Department of State had an internal debate on whether to place Boko Haram on its list of FTOs (Foreign Terrorist Organizations). The Bureau of Counterterrorism leaned towards designation while the Bureau of African Affairs urged caution. Officials from the Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA, and a number of members of Congress urged the State Department to designate Boko Haram as an FTO. The Nigerian government voiced its opposition to an FTO designation, citing concerns that it would raise Boko Haram's stature and have implications for humanitarian aid in the region where Boko Haram operated. Twenty academic experts on Nigeria signed a letter to the State Department urging it not to designate Boko Haram as an FTO, saying that it would hinder NGO efforts in the region and might legitimize the Nigerian Army's human rights abuses in its efforts to fight Boko Haram.
The U.S. State Department designated Boko Haram and its offshoot Ansaru as terrorist organizations in November 2013, citing Boko Haram's links with AQIM and its responsibility for "thousands of deaths in northeast and central Nigeria over the last several years including targeted killings of civilians". The State Department also cited Ansaru's 2013 kidnapping and execution of seven international construction workers. In the statement it was noted, however, "These designations are an important and appropriate step, but only one tool in what must be a comprehensive approach by the Nigerian government to counter these groups through a combination of law enforcement, political, and development efforts."
The State Department had resisted earlier calls to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist group after the 2011 Abuja United Nations bombing. The U.S. government does not believe Boko Haram is currently (2014) affiliated with al-Qaeda Central, despite regular periodic pledges of support and solidarity from its leadership for al-Qaeda, but is particularly concerned about ties between Boko Haram and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) (including "likely sharing funds, training, and explosive materials").
Efforts to cooperate in freeing the Chibok schoolgirls had faltered, largely due to mutual distrust; the infiltration of the military by Boko Haram meant that U.S. officials were wary of sharing raw intelligence data, and the Nigerian military had failed to supply information that might have aided U.S. drone flights in locating the kidnapped girls. The Nigerian government claims that Boko Haram is "the West Africa branch of the world-wide Al-Qaida movement" with connections to al-Shabaab in Somalia and AQIM in Mali.
The Nigerian government denies having committed human rights abuses in the conflict, and therefore oppose U.S. restrictions on arms sales, which they see as being based on the U.S. mis-application of the Leahy Law due to concerns over human rights in Nigeria. The U.S. had supplied the Nigerian army with trucks and equipment but had blocked the sale of Cobra helicopters. In November 2014 the U.S. State department again refused to supply Cobras, citing concerns over the Nigerian military's ability to maintain and use them without endangering civilians.
On 1 December 2014, the U.S. embassy in Abuja announced that the U.S. had discontinued training a Nigerian battalion at the request of the Nigerian government. A spokesman for the U.S. state department said: "We regret premature termination of this training, as it was to be the first in a larger planned project that would have trained additional units with the goal of helping the Nigerian Army build capacity to counter Boko Haram.
The U.S. government will continue other aspects of the extensive bilateral security relationship, as well as all other assistance programs, with Nigeria. The U.S. government is committed to the long tradition of partnership with Nigeria and will continue to engage future requests for cooperation and training".
On 24 September 2015, the White House announced a military aid package for African allies fighting Boko Haram. The package included up to $45 million for training and other support for Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. On 14 October, the White House released a statement, in accordance with the War Powers Resolution, announcing the deployment of 300 troops to Cameroon to conduct airborne ISR: "These forces are equipped with weapons for the purpose of providing their own force protection and security, and they will remain in Cameroon until their support is no longer needed."