Boko Haram escalates battle with bold move into Chad

Nigeria-based Boko Haram militants attacked neighboring Chad for the first time, killing several civilians in a border town. Chad has targeted the Islamist insurgency as part of a regional coalition.

Emmanuel Braun/Reuters/File
Women who fled violence in Nigeria lined up for food at a refugee welcoming center in Ngouboua, Chad, last month. More than 1 million people may have been forced to leave their homes in northern Nigeria by the five-year-old insurgency of Islamist sect Boko Haram.

Boko Haram fighters have killed several civilians after an overnight attack in the Chadian town of Ngouboua, the first such deadly attack in Chad.

An estimated 30 Boko Haram fighters drove motorboats across Lake Chad in the early hours of Friday morning, then proceeded to assault civilians and burn straw houses. Col. Azem Bermandoa, a spokesman for the Chadian Army, confirmed the attack to The Associated Press. He said the militants had scattered and were now being pursued by Chadian troops.

"They came on board three canoes and succeeded in killing about 10 people before being pushed back by the Army," a resident told Reuters.

The attack marks the first time Boko Haram militants have crossed the border into Chad, proving that even with a major counterinsurgency campaign in motion, the militant Islamists are pressing ahead to establish an Islamic regime – resembling a powerful 19th century caliphate – in the region.

But the attack was likely also retaliatory. Chad’s Army, one of the strongest in Africa, has joined the multinational effort against Boko Haram alongside Nigeria, Niger, Benin, and Cameroon. The force has increased ground strikes and bombing raids this month, marking the biggest offensive against Boko Haram in its more than five-year history.

Chadian forces intervened in neighboring Cameroon last month and helped push militants from and northeastern Nigerian town of Gamboru.

“Chad’s forces are determined to crush this force of evil,” said Chad’s information minister, Hassan Sylla Bakari, according to The New York Times. “We are absolutely determined because Boko Haram is a threat to the entire subregion. They want to asphyxiate the Chadian economy by blocking our outlets in Nigeria and Cameroon.”

But questions about funding for the mission remain. Unnamed United Nations officials told the AP that African leaders are seeking approval and money from the UN Security Council.

Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, released a video on Monday in which he singled out Chadian President Idriss Déby. He also mocked the 8,700-strong multinational force being assembled.

"Your alliance will not achieve anything,” he said. “Amass all your weapons and face us. We welcome you."

The uptick in attacks by Boko Haram has forced Nigeria to postpone its national election that were originally scheduled for Saturday. The military assessed that it could not guarantee security at the polls amid newly announced operations in its troubled northeastern states.

The Nigerian military has turned to its much smaller neighbor, Chad, to undertake the bulk of the responsibility of curbing Boko Haram as Nigeria tries to prepare for the election, Bloomberg News reports.

However, there is widespread skepticism over whether the militaries can make enough ground against Boko Haram in time for the election. The Economist wrote:

Such a multi-pronged assault ought to gain further ground against Boko Haram, which is thought to field no more than 6,000 fighters, but getting it under way may take time. The regional force must still be financed and organized. Nigeria is only accepting foreign help with “lukewarm acquiescence”, one Western diplomat argues. It is unlikely that it will allow foreign forces beyond its border towns.

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