It took the kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria to put Boko Haram on the international map as a terrorist organization. The new focus on this band of radical Islamists is both encouraging and discouraging.
The longer such terrorist cells get to operate with near impunity, the stronger they become. Not only are the eyes of the world now on Boko Haram, forces are finally being marshaled against it. That’s the encouraging part.
It is discouraging to consider that Boko Haram is one of an untold number of groups preying on innocent people in a war on anything and anyone these terrorists view as an enemy to life as they believe others should live it. And even more discouraging is the fact that regardless of the action taken against Boko Haram, rescuing the young women being held hostage is going to take an enormous amount of skill and luck.
And even those who may be rescued are likely to be scarred for life. It is painfully ironic that groups such as Boko Haram, which claim to aspire to a higher, purer moral imperative, use the brutalization, rape and murder of children to make a perverted point.
While it is true that the United States cannot be the world’s policeman, it has taken a lead role since 2001 in the global war against terror. The U.S. has resources not available to other countries, even those interested in taking on terrorists.
Until recently, Nigerian leaders have been indifferent about Boko Haram. It wasn’t until worldwide pressure was brought to bear in the wake of the kidnappings that attitudes began to change.
Two years ago, the U.S. state department was poised to place Boko Haram on its list of terrorist organizations. It delayed that action at the request of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, but did so last fall after determining that Boko Haram had growing ties to Al Qaida-affiliated groups in Africa’s Sahel and Maghreb regions. Last June, the U.S. offered a $7 million reward for information leading to the location of Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau.
Now the United Nations has designated Boko Haram as a terrorist organization, which will require its 195 member states to freeze any of the group’s assets, to bar travel by Boko Haram’s members and to ban arms sales or transfers to the group.
Ultimately, it is up to Nigerian forces to stamp out Boko Haram, which not only continues to hold the girls taken from the northern Borno state into the remote Sambisa forest, but in recent days has carried out two bombings in the city of Jos and an assault on three villages in which more than 160 people were killed.
President Obama has informed Congress that 80 American service members are on the ground in neighboring Chad to oversee drone operations in the search for the schoolgirls. In the notice, which is required by the War Powers Resolution, Obama said, “the force will remain in Chad until its support in resolving the kidnapping situation is no longer required.”
The United States not only has a humanitarian motive in helping to rescue the girls, there is a self-interest in defeating Boko Haram.
U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News that there is some evidence that Boko Haram may be planning an attack on U.S. interests in Nigeria. Intelligence and counterterrorism officials in Washington are on alert.
The sooner Abubakar Shekau can be tracked down and brought to justice and Boko Haram’s military assets neutralized, the better.
Doing so is clearly a bigger job than the Nigerian government could tackle on its own. Sometimes, it takes a world to save a village.