Boko Haram is a legitimate threat to regional security. A successful rescue mission would seriously weaken Boko Haram, which has used the kidnapping as a propaganda tool. Boko Haram is an al-Qaeda affiliate whose power has steadily grown over the past year. Islamic extremism very much remains the greatest threat, and the only existential one, to America and her allies. Boko Haram threatens to open a new front in the war on terror.
Sub-Saharan West Africa, from Senegal to Cameroon, has a large Muslim population that to date have been moderate and disengaged from global jihadi activities. In fact, West Africa has one of the world’s highest concentrations of Muslims and Christians living side-by-side, mostly peacefully as neighbors over the last decades since independence. The religious mix provides fertile ground for radicalization, and Boko Haram has repeatedly tried to spark a sectarian war. This kidnapping, which targeted a school of mostly Christian girls, is yet another attempt to provoke reprisal. Not only would a sectarian civil war ignite Muslim-Christian tensions elsewhere in the world, but in would destabilize Nigeria’s weak national government, and the country of 169 million would descend into a vacuum of lawlessness, like Libya (population 6 million) but on a far worse scale. At best, Boko Haram’s endgame resembles that of Ansar Dine, which declared a breakaway Sharia state in northern Mali in 2012. At worst, it results in ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Critics of intervention would likely cite the “Black Hawk Down” disaster in Somalia in 1993, the bitter memory of which still lingers among the Army Rangers and Deltas. In Somalia, the U.S. intervened among rival warlords that were starving the civilian population, but posed no direct threat to U.S. strategic interests. It was a humanitarian mission, not a geopolitical one. With Boko Haram it is both, and the strategic stakes are far higher.