Last Monday the conflict spillover from Nigeria escalated significantly when four suicide attackers set bombs off in N’Djamena, the capital of neighboring Chad, killing at least 20 and wounding more than 100. Chad has a been a major participant — arguably the backbone — of the regional counterinsurgency against Boko Haram.
N’Djamena is, in fact, quite close to the existing warzone in northeastern Nigeria and northern Cameroon, but Chad’s newly large and aggressive military has previously deterred direct terrorist attacks on major targets in-country, even when it stirred hornets’ nests by getting involved beyond its borders in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations. For example, attacking Chad directly on its home turf was something not even the northern Mali insurgents attempted to do after Chad’s high-profile participation in the 2013 international military intervention in Mali, but Boko Haram doesn’t seem to have the same limits.
In the end, on the other hand, insurgents and terrorists in Mali were able to harass and attack Chadian forces enough times inside Mali itself to force their withdrawal of ground troops. So it remains to be seen whether attacking the capital, rather than Chadian forces in Nigeria, will be more effective or less. It will raise some questions about Chad’s military efficacy, I suspect, if it cannot defend the capital. If Chad continues to develop a reputation as a paper tiger — talking big in Mali and Central African Republic (or now Nigeria), but later abandoning the situation when the heat turns up — it may lose some of its U.S. and European support. That might not be the worst outcome.
Chad’s military responded to the bombing later in the week with airstrikes in Nigeria at six locations, which the Nigerian government (even under new management) insisted didn’t happen, or didn’t happen inside Nigeria’s borders. This would not be the first unilateral military action by Chad inside Nigeria against Boko Haram.