The Obama administration says it expects to deploy about 300 U.S. service members to the African nation of Cameroon to help stop the spread of Boko Haram and other violent extremist groups.
Roughly 90 U.S. service members are already en route to Cameroon to conduct airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations in the region.
Background from our prior briefing reports:
Cameroon, which is located next to Nigeria (Boko Haram’s home base) and shares a difficult-to-monitor 300-mile border with it, announced it was going to war with Boko Haram back in May of 2014 when hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped in a raid. This decision triggered a wave of Boko Haram incursions into Cameroon (including high-profile kidnappings) and retaliatory ground and air operations by the Cameroon Armed Forces.
President Paul Biya next month will celebrate his 33rd anniversary as president (after 7 years as prime minister before that). The Cameroonian military (some parts competent and some parts rickety) could probably use the U.S. military assistance, but there will be concerns as to whether the U.S. is again militarily aiding and training a military force in an autocratic African country after more than a few recent instances of political trouble or repression involving U.S.-trained local military forces.
Cameroon — a country once carved out of colonial remainders by Imperial Germany and then split at random by France and Britain before re-merging itself after independence — now finds itself as an unusually stable dictatorship wedged between the rising conflict in northern Nigeria and the aftermath of the recent genocidal civil war in Central African Republic, exposed along lengthy borders on both sides. The populations in northeast Nigeria and northern Cameroon have long had cultural and economic interchange, since the border was an arbitrary colonial one crossing through an existing society.
Just days after Cameroon had to scramble planes to repulse as many as a thousand Boko Haram fighters who had overrun the Achigachia military base and five border villages in Cameroon, Nigeria’s strategically significant military base at Baga, near the border of Chad, fell to Boko Haram in a clear rout for the multi-national force stationed there, who apparently put up no resistance:
A senator in Borno state said troops had abandoned the base in the town of Baga after it was attacked on Saturday. Residents of Baga, who fled by boat to neighbouring Chad, said many people had been killed and the town set ablaze.
Baga, scene of a Nigerian army massacre in 2013, was the last town in the Borno North area [one of three Senate districts in the state] under government control. It hosted the base of the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), made up of troops from Nigeria, Chad and Niger.
Residents who fled to Chad said they had woken to heavy gunfire as militants stormed Baga early on Saturday, attacking from all directions. They said they had decided to flee when they saw the multi-national troops running away.
In April 2013, at least 37 people were killed and 2,275 homes destroyed in Baga by troops hunting Boko Haram fighters who had attacked a patrol, Human Rights Watch reported.
Cooperation between the armed forces of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and other nearby countries has been extremely limited and there has not been much trust. This new failure, involving one of the few points of direct integration, is likely to reinforce that tension among the anti-Boko Haram alliance members. That in turn will make it harder to prevent Boko Haram from easily moving back and forth across national borders to stage attacks on the alliance.
Still image (via AFP) from a Boko Haram video communiqué received October 31, 2014.
Following a coordinated, massive assault by Nigerian-based Boko Haram militants on Cameroonian targets, the government of Cameroon for the first time ordered airstrikes and rocket strikes on the attacking fighters. BBC:
About 1,000 militants attacked five villages, including Amchide, and seized the nearby Achigachia military base, where they raised their black flag, army spokesman Lt Col Didier Badjeck told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme. He said President Paul Biya then personally ordered the air force to intervene, forcing the militants out.
The base was reportedly retaken and the attackers repulsed. According the Cameroonian military, one soldier was killed and 41 Boko Haram members were killed. It was not immediately clear what aircraft participated in the counterattack, given the very weak state of the country’s air force.
This marks a significant development in Cameroon’s involvement in the regional war against Boko Haram. Thus far the country has been primarily concerned with trying to secure the border with Nigeria to stop militants trying to cross over.
Boko Haram has spent much of the second half of 2014 attempting to breach the Nigerian-Cameroonian border permanently, to spread the war and their territory to a wider sphere of control — much like ISIS crossing from Syria back into Iraq and breaking up the colonial borders. Boko Haram kidnapped the Cameroonian Deputy Prime Minister’s wife from her home (she was eventually released under undisclosed terms) and staged dozens of major attacks on border villages in the country’s less populous and less hospitable northern regions.
AFD Background Briefing: The country, which is located next to Nigeria, Boko Haram’s home base, said it was going to war with Boko Haram back in May of this year when hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped in a raid. The girls are believed to have been taken to the forests near the border with northern Cameroon.
At great cost, Cameroon has held the line so far:
The strain is tangible. Cameroon’s elite Rapid Intervention Battalion, commonly known by its French acronym BIR, has lost dozens of men since the beginning of the year in the fight against Boko Haram.
About 1,000 men from BIR, trained by US and Israeli forces, have been deployed along a 500-km (300- mile) stretch of porous border with Nigeria. Boko Haram is advancing and Cameroon’s military fight daily battles to keep the boundary with Nigeria – Africa’s most populous state – intact.
Cameroon’s military recently dispatched another 2,000 soldiers to the border region to reinforce troops.
Last month, Boko Haram attacked the military post at Amchide with a tank.
They are certainly a more competent military force than Nigeria’s. But troops on the ground are already starting to wonder why France has not sent help from their base not so far away in the capital of Chad.
Boko Haram has kidnapped the wife of Deputy Prime Minister Amadou Ali of Cameroon and local officials in the same town, following an announcement that Cameroon’s military would join a multi-national coalition against them. Deputy Prime Minister Ali narrowly escaped his home during the assault, which took place in Kolofata, a border town extremely far in the north of Cameroon, in a region that was once part of an empire centering in northern Nigeria.
The country, which is located next to Nigeria, Boko Haram’s home base, had said it was going to war with Boko Haram back in May of this year when hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped in a raid. The girls are believed to have been taken to the forests near the border with northern Cameroon.
Cameroon — a country once carved out of colonial remainders by Imperial Germany and then split at random by France and Britain before re-merging itself after independence — now finds itself as an unusually stable dictatorship wedged between the rising conflict in northern Nigeria and the genocidal civil war in Central African Republic, exposed along lengthy borders on both sides. The populations in northeast Nigeria and northern Cameroon have long had cultural and economic interchange, since the border was an arbitrary colonial one crossing through an existing society.
The government of Cameroon, approaching the 32nd year of President Paul Biya’s tenure (4th longest in Africa) has taken a hard line previously against neighboring rebel factions operating within its borders, knowing that letting them build up typically means trouble for the host country eventually. Now it may have dragged itself definitively into this conflict by publicly siding against Boko Haram.
It seems to have begun in earnest:
Cameroon’s long and porous border with Nigeria means Boko Haram fighters can come and go at will, attacking police stations and villages, and spreading terror throughout the region, says BBC Africa editor Mary Harper.
The group has attacked Cameroon three times in as many days in the past week, killing at least four soldiers, Reuters reports.
On Friday, more than 20 members of the militant group were jailed in Cameroon on charges of possessing illegal firearms and plotting an insurrection.
From BBC Africa: Cameroon ‘repels CAR gun attack’…
Cameroon’s army has repelled a cross-border raid by gunmen from the Central African Republic (CAR), killing six of the attackers and capturing one of them, the defence ministry says.
A soldier and a villager were also killed in the clashes on Saturday, it said.
What this headline and blurb don’t say is that the total number of attackers was estimated to be four hundred. It’s believed the rebel group crossed the border in an effort to free their captured leader, who had previously been arrested by the government in Cameroon because he was trying to destabilize the Central African Republic from within their territory.
Basically, Cameroon doesn’t even have time for your mess, CAR.