Did Nigeria’s military fail to act prior to the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls last month? That claim comes from an investigation by Amnesty International, in which they assert that a regional military headquarters simply failed to mobilize in time to prevent the terrorist attack:
“Damning testimonies gathered by Amnesty International reveal that Nigerian security forces failed to act on advance warnings about Boko Haram’s armed raid on the state-run boarding school in Chibok which led to the abduction,” the rights group said.
Amnesty said it had verified the information about the abduction with “credible sources”.
“Amnesty International has confirmed… that Nigeria’s military headquarters in Maiduguri was aware of the impending attack soon after 7:00 PM (1800 GMT) on 14 April, close to four hours before Boko Haram began their assault on the town,” the group said.
The military however could not assemble the troops needed to suppress the attack, “due to poor resources and a reported fear of engaging with the often better-equipped” Islamists, according to Amnesty.
A half-dozen American military advisers arrived in Nigeria today to bolster those capabilities, at least in theory. They will join other US and British officials in attempted to track and find the hostages, but that won’t include American boots on the ground:
The advisers will join a team of U.S. and British officials already in Nigeria, helping find the girls, planning rescue efforts and devising strategies to help subdue the terror group Boko Haram, which abducted the girls April 14 from a government boarding school.
About 60 U.S. officials have been on the ground since before the kidnappings as part of counterterrorism efforts with Nigeria, a senior U.S. administration official told CNN. They have been holding meetings, getting resources into the country and making assessments with local authorities.
“Our interagency team is hitting the ground in Nigeria now, and they are going to be working … with President Goodluck Jonathan’s government to do everything that we possibly can to return these girls,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday.
Their tasks include establishing a coordination cell to provide intelligence, investigations and hostage negotiation expertise.
There are no plans to send American combat troops, according to U.S. Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, who serves as Pentagon press secretary.
That’s a cautious but probably wise choice, under the circumstances of the wider security issues in the region for the US and NATO. However, it won’t solve the problem of the lack of Nigerian forces or power to deal with Boko Haram on the ground. It raises the question again about why the US didn’t take steps earlier to list Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) despite years of requests from the military — specifically AFRICOM — the CIA, and the FBI and Department of Justice.
Yesterday, the Weekly Standard’s Jeryl Bier revealed that the same question was being asked within the State Department nearly two years ago, at the embassy in Lagos:
On September 20, 2012, then Bureau of African Affairs Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson appeared on a State Department “Live at State” webchat regarding “U.S. Policy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa.” Questions from journalists and other individuals via webchat were posed to Carson by the host, Holly Jensen. At one point, a question was asked by the “U.S. Consulate in Lagos [Nigeria]”:
MS. JENSEN: The U.S. Consulate in Lagos wants to know: Why is the government reluctant to designate the Boko Haram sect as a foreign terrorist organization?
AMBASSADOR CARSON: Thank you very much. We look at the issue of Boko Haram as a major concern not only to Nigeria but also to Nigeria’s neighbors and Niger and Cameroon and Benin as well. Boko Haram, we believe, is not a homogenous, monolithic organization, but it is comprised of several different kinds of groups.
Carson went on to note that while the organization itself was not designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, three individuals within Boko Haram were designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorists in June 2012:
We have, indeed, recently designated three individuals in Boko Haram as individuals who are involved in terrorism, and we have done so because we believe those three individuals have established contacts with foreign terrorist organizations, have gone out and sought to get financing from foreign terrorist organizations, and have tried to establish broader networks and relationships with them.
Bear in mind that this question came after a long string of terrorist attacks in Nigeria, many of them aimed specifically at the Christians within the country. Had we listed them as an FTO in 2011 when nearly every sector of the American national-security community demanded it, the financial and intelligence operations enabled by that step may have helped reduce Boko Haram’s capabilities by now … or maybe not. We will never know, though, and now the entire international community has to play catch-up. That sounds a little like the accusation coming from Amnesty International against Nigeria today.