During Secretary of State John Kerry’s first official trip to sub-Saharan last week he had the opportunity to publicly bolster a key U.S. ally. Instead, he singled out Nigeria for criticism at the very time the country is engaged in a pitched battle to defend itself against radical Islamic terrorists who have pledged to overthrow the government and replace it with an Islamic state.
It was a puzzling choice by the United States, coming at the very moment that Nigeria is reporting major progress in combating the group Boko Haram. Nigeria has deployed 2,000 soldiers to its northern regions to destroy well-equipped terrorist training camps utilized by the radical Islamic terrorists. Public chiding is not what Nigeria needs. It doesn’t help Nigeria in its fight and ultimately does not best serve American interests.
Nigeria is presently at war and on the other side are terrorists who may be receiving help from al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda linked fighters. Nigeria’s goal is to retain its grip on three northern states, preventing Boko Haram from solidifying its grip on the region and fundamentally destabilizing Nigeria through a terrorism that aims to strike fear into the hearts of its citizens.
The very name Boko Haram tells us everything we need to know about the group—it translates to “Western education is forbidden.” The group began launching its terrorist strikes in Nigeria in 2009 and has continued since then. The Associated Press estimates that Boko Haram has killed over 1,600 people since 2009, and thousands more Nigerians have been wounded.
The group has specifically targeted the country’s Christians, carrying out suicide bombings inside churches. In recent months, it has fulfilled a pledge to target Nigerian women and children by taking them hostage.
Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Muhammad Shekau has modeled himself on Osama bin Laden, living in hiding while periodically circulating videos released to the media which show him against a backdrop of guns delivering harsh threats and espousing radical jihadist views.
Shortly after Boko Haram had executed its most deadly attack to date by killing at least 180 people in a suicide bombing in northern Nigeria’s largest city, Shakau appeared in a video stating: “I enjoy killing anyone that God commands me to kill- the way I enjoy killing chickens and rams.”
Today, Boko Haram’s Islamic fighters are reportedly using anti-aircraft guns mounted on trucks to fight the Nigerian soldiers attempting to rein in the group.