Thursday, November 14, 2013

Boko Haram: A New Terrorist Group

     This week, the United States Department of State designated Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization.  The organization is located in Nigeria and has a loose affiliation with al-Qaeda.  
     Boko Haram's record thus far includes various attacks on churches, civilians, and most recently, English language students.  By officially declaring Boko Haram a terrorist organization, the US can now "freeze assets, impose travel bans on known members and affiliates, and prohibit Americans from offering material support."  The United States has also linked them to certain terror cells in Mali as well.  
     The danger this group poses (aside from immediate terror attacks) is a western spread of jihad.  Al-Qaeda has strongholds in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Yemen, and Pakistan while groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah are located in Iran, Lebanon, and Israel.  This dispersion could lead to a greater, more unified terror construct.  
     France has recently had bouts with terror factions in Mali and has struggled to fight the guerrillas.  Prominent officials have suggested the gravity of a potential link between al-Qaeda and Boko Haram with the potential to carry out "broader regional attacks."  TIME Magazine notes "U.S. observers have raised concerns over the group’s influence and its potential to link up with al-Qaeda’s North African wing or Somalia’s al-Shabab, the group behind the massacre at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall in September." 
     This new network has a potential "domino effect" similar to that during the Vietnam War era because Northern and Western Africa are nearly linked to a regional terror network in the Middle East.  With cells popping up in Western African nations such as Nigeria, Algeria, and Mali, a global outfit could be realized.  
     The United States also has economic and diplomatic concerns in Nigeria which may be why the US has taken such an interest in Boko Haram.  According to the State Department, Nigeria faces "formidable challenges in consolidating diplomatic order, including terrorist activities, sectarian conflicts, and public mistrust of the government.  Nigeria is also the United States' largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa.  The US and Nigeria have engaged in a Binational Commission which meets frequently and communicates about good governance, transparency, integrity, energy and investment, regional security, the Niger Delta, and agriculture and food security.        
          Former US Ambassador to the UN and current National Security Adviser to President Obama, Susan Rice tweeted last night:  "Boko Haram designation demonstrates our strong support for Nigeria’s fight against terrorism, cuts-off access to US financial institutions," and "As POTUS told Pres Jonathan, encourages #Nigeria to fight terror in a way that promotes econ opportunity and protects human rights."  Susan Rice has a long track record of being pro-human rights which may have an influence on the president.
          While the US shares certain interests in Nigeria, the overall concern regarding Boko Haram is startling.  Despite France's charge in Western Africa to combat terror cells, the battle increasingly became an exercise and futility draining French pockets.  In order to maintain the upper hand in the War on Terror, it is imperative that an organized, multi-regional network be dismantled before it begins.     

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