Baga, a key Nigerian town on the border of Chad, Niger, and Cameroon, has been retaken from Islamist splinter group Boko Haram this weekend, according to Reuters.
This marks a significant step in the conflict against the group, but is it enough for the Nigerian government to begin to claim victory in the war? There have recently been major military offensives in many parts of the country, as the general election has been delayed six weeks in order to concentrate more firmly on the scourge that has swept Nigeria over the last few years.
Sadly, however, we only need look at history to know that, whilst useful, this victory may not be enough to break the group permanently.
First, let us look at the story of the group itself. Founded in 2002, Boko Haram (translated roughly meaning Western Education is Forbidden), has swiftly become one of the most high-profile anti-state groups in Africa, and perhaps even the world. In 2014, they claimed world headlines and inspired the #bringbackourgirls campaign, after the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls to make a political point.
More recently, in early January of 2015, their own assault on Baga resulted in huge massacres, with estimates ranging between 150 and 2000 people dead.
All of this points to a highly organised military organisation with political motives, one that picks its targets carefully and has a highly organised chain of command. It seems unlikely, then, that the simple recapture of Baga will result in the capitulation of the group. Hundreds of militants are considered to have died in the resulting attack, but this may well only have the counter-intuitive effect of making the group all the more elusive.
Past wars have shown how effective guerrilla warfare can be. From Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, there have been repeated examples of how a well-drilled organisation with established leadership can win against an established power. In Africa itself, the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) in Uganda serves as an interesting parallel as to how effective these tactics can be.
Boko Haram may have lost a significant chunk of their fighters, but they will never struggle to attract new followers to their cause. They can achieve this in a number of ways, but much of the disaffected youth of the country is likely to be attracted to the self-styled Islamic freedom fighting that the group offer, while kidnapping and brainwashing from a very young age in the manner of the LRA is another option.
The loss of Baga is a significant strategic blow to the group’s ambitions, but it is far too early to proclaim it as a victory. It may put the group on the back foot, but for now it is likely that they will use the time to replenish their numbers and plan their next move while maintaining their guerrilla strategy. Since the loss of the town, the group has already used a young girl to commit a suicide attack, as per The Guardian. This shows that, whilst they have lost the key town of Baga, it has merely caused an evolution in their tactics to an even more extreme length.
The key to the defeat of the group is to remove its leadership. Until then, they will remain, evolving in the shadows, waiting and planning their next attack, which will almost certainly be unexpected. The recapture of Baga, then, to use an old phrase, is a battle won, but certainly not a war.
This article was originally published on The News Hub – https://www.the-newshub.com/international/boko-haram-lose-baga