Boko Haram is a violent Islamist group operating in Nigeria that has been seen as an increasing concern by the United States. For example, in March 2012 General Carter Ham (the commander of AFRICOM) testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that “the potential for support and strengthening of ties between these three groups (al Shabaab, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram) with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and al Qaeda senior leaders in Pakistan, is of particular concern and requires continued monitoring.” Similarly, a report by the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence entitled Boko Haram: Emerging Threat to the U.S. Homeland advised that the U.S. should “not underestimate Boko Haram’s intent and capability to attack the U.S. homeland.” Other observers see Boko Haram’s militant activities as more rooted in local grievances, and thus see the group as less likely to pose a direct threat to the United States. The point of this piece is not to engage in the debate about how big a threat to America Boko Haram should be seen as: rather, we note these U.S. perceptions as the reason that the United States has formulated a number of policies for addressing the militant group.
This entry provides a look at these U.S. policies. Our purpose in doing so is to promote a more informed discussion of what the United States should be doing in Nigeria, in several ways. First, some commentators on Boko Haram have provided recommendations for addressing the militant group that are quite similar to currently expressed U.S. policies. An explanation of what the U.S. is currently attempting to do to address the challenge posed by Boko Haram should help to produce more informed recommendations. Further, an explanation of U.S. policies can help commentators keep track of which policies have been successful, and which are lacking. Essentially, current U.S. policies for addressing Boko Haram seek to be broad-based and comprehensive. As Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, coordinator for the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, stated in recent testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, “Long-standing and still neglected political and socio-economic grievances are some of the drivers feeding the violence in the North. Eliminating this threat requires us to address these issues. U.S. counterterrorism strategy is closely linked to the broader strategy of support for the Nigerian government’s reform efforts, and increased respect for human rights.”
What follows is our analysis of the policies being pursued by various U.S. governmental agencies. Note that in several instances limited information is available about the policies that the United States is pursuing beyond the fact that assistance falls within a specific category. This provides ample room for researchers to further flesh out the contours of U.S. policy in future contributions.
Department of State
There are three major prongs to the State Department’s policies. The first is the U.S.–Nigeria Bi-national Commission, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched in 2010. The commission organizes meetings and working groups in four key areas: good governance and transparency, promoting regional cooperation and development, energy reform and investment, and food security and agricultural investment. Last week, the commission convened for its seventh meeting at the U.S. Institute of Peace. The Department of Defense also plays a role in the Commission’s working groups. As Amanda Dory, deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, said in April 2012 House testimony, “In late January 2012, DoD participated in the inaugural meeting of the regional security working group established under the DoS-led U.S.-Nigeria Bi-national Commission. Although meant to address the full range of U.S.-Nigeria security cooperation, this working group meeting focused on countering violent extremism.”
A second State Department goal is to improve the capacity of local partners in Nigeria. The State Department’s Antiterrorism Assistance Program (ATA), which provides training and equipment to countries combating the threat of terrorism, has projects with Nigeria. As Ambassador Benjamin noted, “A key ATA project initiative involves building Nigeria’s counter incident countermeasures capacity as the level of terrorism and political violence at the hands of Boko Haram increases.”
A third State Department goal is reducing the flow of funds to Boko Haram. Its Counterterrorist Finance Program (CTF) is working with the Government of Nigeria to address Boko Haram’s revenue streams, with a special focus on dealing with kidnappings. Ambassador Benjamin explained:
The State CTF program works with the interagency to provide the Government of Nigeria with an array of training to include Bulk Cash Smuggling, Terrorist Finance Investigations, Financial Intelligence Unit Analytical Training, as well as soft skill development targeting the financial regulatory system. Pending adoption of AML/CTF legislation that meets international standards, Nigeria may be one of the best equipped nations in West Africa to address the threat of money laundering and terrorist finance.
In an effort to build regional cooperation toward stopping the flow of illicit funds and illegal goods and substances through West Africa to Europe, from the Western Hemisphere, State will partner with the Department of Homeland Security in July 2012 to deliver a new program in partnership with both the Senegalese and Nigerian governments. The venue will serve as a platform for dialogue for each country to discuss common challenges presented by organizations such as Boko Haram and Hizballah.
Department of Defense
The Department of Defense provides the Nigerian government with security-related training, as well as funding. General Ham has said that the U.S. military relationship with Nigeria is “very long-standing, very helpful and very useful.”
First, the DoD provides training and support activities. U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers have provided counterinsurgency training to Nigerian troops, helping them to prepare to fight Boko Haram. In November 2011, it was disclosed that the U.S. sent 100 Special Forces soldiers for these purposes. AFRICOM also provides training through both the African Coastal and Border Security Program (ACBS) and the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP). ACBS, as Boko Haram: Emerging Threat notes, strives to provide “training, border and maritime security, and increase military professionalism.” TSCTP began in 2005 to prevent the expansion of terrorist groups. In Nigeria, the program provides training and intelligence support directed against Boko Haram. Additionally, the National Guard’s State Partnership Program links the California National Guard with Nigeria.
The DoD also provides funding to the Nigerian Army to improve their capabilities. As Boko Haram: Emerging Threat states, DoD has provided the Nigerian army with “$2.2 million for the development of a counterterrorism infantry unit, and another $6.2 million designated to the tactical communications and interoperability within its counterterrorism unit.”
Despite the aforementioned military programs, the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence stated that Nigerian forces fell short in critical capacities:
Despite General Ham’s positive reviews of U.S.-Nigerian military cooperation, Nigerian capacity to combat Boko Haram in the north is limited. According to sources following the attacks, soldiers deployed in northern Nigeria have been deserting due to a lack of pay. Morale has been reported to be generally low among security forces based in the north. Residents feel that the security situation will continue to deteriorate, in part due to the fact that senior commanders still do not appear to take the threat posed by Boko Haram seriously. The inability of the government to pay its soldiers and the lack of urgency among senior commanders regarding the increasingly violent attacks waged by Boko Haram underscore the challenges the Nigerian state faces in confronting this problem.
Thus, the Subcommittee advised intensified cooperation with Nigeria’s military, particularly in the area of intelligence: “It is critical that the United States work more closely with Nigerian security forces to develop greater domestic intelligence collection and sharing with the U.S. Intelligence Community. Military cooperation is vital to a successful counterterrorism strategy.”
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
USAID has also been involved in Nigeria. Some of the USAID initiatives are outlined in Boko Haram: Emerging Threat:
The United States has begun to engage Nigerian Muslims, primarily through two U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) programs in the northern states of Bauchi and Sokoto…. Additionally, a USAID program called Leadership, Empowerment, Advocacy, and Development (LEAD), is [helping] northern governments build partnerships between state and local governments and the private sector. The goal of this program is to improve accountability, governance, and the delivery of essential services.
Alexis Shklar, an intern at FDD’s Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization, contributed research to this analysis.