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The Horror of Boko Haram

The West should increase its help for Nigeria’s military.
BN-IN416_edp052_J_20150520155207 Internally displaced persons (IDP), who are victims of Boko Haram attacks, stay at the IDP camp for those fleeing violence from Boko Haram insurgents in Wurojuli, Gombe State in September 2014. Photo: Samuel Ini/Reuters

The Nigerian military announced Sunday that it had destroyed 10 Boko Haram camps in the country’s northeast, killing an unspecified number of terrorists as they tried to flee. The government offensive is bringing the scale of the Islamist group’s barbarity into view.

Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates to “Western education is forbidden,” launched an armed insurgency against the Nigerian government in 2009. It gained world-wide attention last summer after abducting 276 Nigerian school girls, prompting Michelle Obama’s #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign. In March the group pledged allegiance to Islamic State while infiltrating neighboring countries.

So far, more than 11,000 have been killed in the conflict, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins University. One and a half million people have been displaced. Women and girls have paid an especially high price for Boko’s depredations. “One woman said Boko Haram fighters would enter her house weekly to rape a younger woman who lived with the family,” Daniel Eyre, a researcher with Amnesty International who has interviewed victims, told us. Some 2,000 people have been kidnapped since 2014. Forced marriages and impregnations are common.

The government finally launched a concerted military effort against Boko this spring. Nigeria’s neighbors have joined the fight as best they can given Abuja’s unwillingness or inability to coordinate with their militaries. The government says it has recaptured large swaths of territory lost to Boko in recent months, although progress is hard for outsiders to verify.

Nigerians in late March elected a tough former general, Muhammadu Buhari, as the country’s next President on a pledge to eradicate the group. Mr. Buhari takes office later this month, and an early test will be whether he can consolidate the gains made by the departing administration while improving coordination with Nigeria’s neighbors. Boko Haram’s deadly assault last week on the city of Maiduguri shows the group is far from vanquished.


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