That’s the assessment of both U.S. counterterrorism officials and many experts who cover West Africa. After several months of optimism, and military successes by Chadian and Nigerian forces that rolled back the terror group’s gains, Boko Haram has retaken the initiative.
The Islamist terror group attacked a police academy in Chad’s capital city of N’Djamena this weekend, killing dozens of officers and recruits. Boko Haram had also killed dozens of Nigerians, including police officers, in a series of recent attacks around Maiduguri, the biggest city in Nigeria’s northeast. On Wednesday, a sack of bombs killed more than 60 people in Bauchi, Nigeria.
“You can quibble on this and that, but yes, they are winning,” said John Campbell, the Ralph Bunche Center director at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria. Campbell said that Western observers had “way overstated” the territorial gains by Nigerian and Chadian forces that dislodged Boko Haram from small towns it had overrun in the spring.
“There have been successes,” said a U.S. counterterrorism official. “But it’s whack-a-mole. Boko Haram does strategic retreats. … They will move out from the forest into the countryside, attacking villages, then when confronted will beat a retreat and carry out bombings in Maiduguri. … We’ve just had three days of bombings in Maiduguri. It had quieted down in Maiduguri.”
Officials in Nigeria and four neighboring countries — Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin — have been trying to form an 8,700-man fighting force to battle Boko Haram. Both the United States and France has been helping with intelligence and other support, but the multinational force is still has no central command.