|Regional armies struggle in last push against Boko Haram|
|"You'll all be able to go home soon. Boko Haram is nearly finished," Niger's Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum told a crowd of refugees seated quietly on dusty, sun-baked flats.|
His words of optimism were belied by the dozens-strong security detail required to protect him as he toured his country's southern border.
Seven years into an insurgency that spread from Nigeria into Chad, Niger and Cameroon, regional armies are now in a final push to defeat Boko Haram, a once obscure Islamist sect turned deadly militant group.
But lingering divisions in the countries' multi-national joint task force (MNJTF) are complicating that mission.
"If there's no strategy to attack Boko Haram together, we won't ever finish with them," Mahamadou Liman Ali, an opposition lawmaker from southern Niger, told Reuters in Niamey.
At a time when the world's wealthy nations are focused on the fight against Islamic State and al Qaeda, financial support for the MNJTF's efforts against Boko Haram, which has pledged its allegiance to IS, have fallen short of targets.
That has left the task force's members - including Chad, the region's capable but increasingly reluctant military powerhouse - to shoulder the bulk of the costs of fighting the group.
Boko Haram's victims, which include 2.4 million displaced, live in hope that this month-old offensive - dubbed Operation Gama Aiki, or "finish the job" in the local Hausa language - might succeed where others have failed.
Some have doubts. From where he stays in southern Niger, refugee Usman Kanimbu sees smoke rising from the coalition's air strikes on insurgent positions in Nigeria, the home he fled.
"We've fled eight times. Each time we arrive somewhere Boko Haram attacks again. We would keep running, but we can't afford to anymore," he said. "I'm not sure this will ever end."
As the sun sets over the Nigerian border, a featureless expanse of sand and scrub trees, soldiers from Niger peered over an earthen bern at territory held by Boko Haram.
The skies above the borderlands now rumble daily with the sound of fighter jets. Chadian troops have ventured onto Lake Chad, a Boko Haram stronghold. Regional military officers say they are taking back ground from the insurgents.
The task force may indeed be making headway against Boko Haram, which has fewer footholds than it once did. Its leader, Abubakar Shekau, may even be dead.
But the MNJTF is a far cry from what it was conceived to be, a dedicated 8,700-strong force blending soldiers from Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Benin.
Instead, the nations rely on their own armies to deal with Boko Haram threats. Troops from Chad, which has the region's strongest military, reinforce when needed then head back home.
"Each force is based in its country of origin. There's no integrated force with battalions moving in perfect coordination," said Vincent Foucher, West Africa researcher at International Crisis Group (ICG).
The need for operational integration in the fight against an enemy that knows no borders was exposed during a similar regional offensive early last year.
After troops from Chad and Niger drove Boko Haram from a string of towns in Nigeria's far north, they waited in vain for the Nigerian army to arrive and hold them.
"We were there for three or four months, but the Nigerian troops that were meant to take over from us were not ready," Niger's Brigadier General Abdou Sidikou Issa told Reuters.
Niger and Chad withdrew, according to a source with knowledge of the operation, because they feared becoming an occupying force. Issa said the troops were overstretched logistically, however. Either way, the vacuum they left allowed Boko Haram to reclaim positions and carry on cross-border raids.
"That's what's created problems for us again today," Issa said.
The MNJTF was meant to prevent a repeat of those kinds of incidents. The African Union endorsed the force in January 2015 and a headquarters was established in Chad's capital N'Djamena to coordinate forces against the ever-evolving threat of Boko Haram.
The AU has struggled to rally contributors to foot the bill for the MNJTF's $700 million budget, however. Donors, led by Nigeria and France, pledged $250 million in February, just over a third of what was needed, but dispersal has been slow. The United States has also aided with intelligence and training.
A senior MNJTF officer, who asked not to be named as he was not authorised to speak, told Reuters the money received so far was so little that it only had covered the cost of 11 vehicles and some radio equipment, with the individual armies bearing the rest of the costs.
"There are all these declarations of intentions, but, in concrete terms, nothing has been done yet," he said.
A spokesman for the MNJTF did not respond to a request for comment.
A Boko Haram attack last month on Bosso, in southeastern Niger, which killed 32 soldiers and a number of civilians, was the kind of incident the MNJTF was created for.
But rather than the multinational force kicking into action as it is supposed to, Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou had to fly to N'Djamena to lobby neighbour Chad for help.
Having played a lead role along with France in a 2013 intervention in Mali to drive back jihadist groups there, Chad's President Idriss Deby has become indispensable in the fight against West African Islamists.
But with low oil prices now causing Deby economic headaches at home and little direct financial support coming from his allies, analysts say he has grown resentful.
Two weeks after President Issoufou's visit, Reuters visited a half-finished hotel complex in the southern Niger city of Diffa that had been fully booked out by the Chadian army. The Chadians were nowhere to be seen. Dozens of bungalows sat empty.
It would take more than a month for them to arrive.
Excluding its oil sector, after 7 percent growth in 2014, Chad's economy contracted by 1.5 percent last year, according to the International Monetary Fund. Oil output rose to record levels, but low prices meant revenues dipped.
"This is costing (Deby) a lot of money. There's a big budget crisis ... He's definitely hurting," said Nathaniel Powell, a researcher with the Swiss-based Fondation Pierre du Bois.
A Chadian government official did not respond to a request for comment.
Niger's tiny army - 15,000 troops to cover 1.2 million square kilometres (463,300 square miles) of territory - is overstretched by Boko Haram, but also by the overflow of unrelated Islamist violence from Mali to its west.
Cameroon has meanwhile deployed thousands of troops, including special forces, to its north to secure its own territory against a suicide bombing campaign.
And while Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari has shown more willingness than his predecessor to take on the insurgents, decades of graft have hollowed out his military and it now faces resurgent militancy in the oil-producing Niger Delta.
The senior MNJTF officer said the regional neighbours would continue to improve the force. In the meantime, they had no other choice than to act.
"If we wait, Boko Haram isn't going to wait for us, are they?" he said.
|Boko Haram Internally Fractured Over ISIS Ties, U.S. General Says|
|[Haaretz] Nigerian Abubakar Shekau over his failure to adhere to guidance from ISIS, a senior U.S. general said on Tuesday. have fractured internally, with a big group splitting away from shadowy leader |
Marine Lieutenant General Thomas Waldhauser, the nominee to lead the U.S. military's Africa Command, suggested the internal division was illustrative of limits of ISIS' influence over Boko Haram so far, despite the West African group's pledge of allegiance to it last year.
"Several months ago, about half of Boko Haram broke off to a separate group because they were not happy with the amount of buy-in, if you will, from Boko Haram into the brand," Waldhauser said at his nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Shekau, he said, had not fallen into line with ISIS instructions, including by ignoring calls for Boko Haram to stop using children as s.
"He's been told by to stop doing that. But he has not done so. And that's one of the reasons why this splinter group has broken off," he said, adding that ISIS was trying to "reconcile those two groups."
reported on June 9 that U.S. officials had seen no evidence that Boko Haram has so far received significant operational support or financing from ISIS. The assessment suggested Boko Haram's loyalty pledge had so far mostly been a branding exercise.
|Nigeria Cautious over 'Proof of Life' Chibok Girls Video|
|[AnNahar] Nigeria's government on Thursday said it was studying a "proof of life" video showing 15 of the more than 200 schoolgirls by , as parents and their supporters marked the second anniversary of the kidnapping.|
The footage, shown on CNN, is the first time any of the missing girls have been seen since a previous Boko Haram video in May 2014, when about 100 were seen in Islamic dress reciting the Koran.
A total of 276 girls were from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, , on April 14, 2014. Fifty-seven escaped in the immediate aftermath.
Three mothers and a classmate of the 219 schoolgirls still missing confirmed the identities of the girls in the images broadcast on Wednesday night.
A senior government source told AFP it had received the video, which shows the girls in black hijabs, stating their names, that they were from Chibok and saying they were "all well".
The video was said to have been shot on December 25 last year.
But the source said they were keen to avoid the problems encountered by the previous administration, which prematurely announced talks with Boko Haram elements and even a ceasefire.
"Our intelligence and security authorities... received a similar video in July last year and when they followed the lead it led to a cul-de sac," he revealed.
Contact could not be made and it was impossible to determine the identities of the purported Boko Haram members who sent it or if the move had the blessing of the group's leadership, he added.
Boko Haram has long been known to be factionalism, comprising groups of ideologically sympathetic fighters who do not always act under the direct orders of senior commanders.
In an indication the latest video and the previous unpublicized message may have come from one of these factions, the source also said the government had received a ransom demand last July.
The group asked for one million euros ($1.1 million) for 10 of the girls, the source disclosed.
That lends weight to theories the Chibok girls were split up following the abduction and were being held separately in different locations, complicating any possible talks or rescue bid.
AFP has also seen photographs of five girls that were sent to the government in mid-January this year as part of the same bid for negotiations.
Boko Haram's leader Abubakar Shekau has previously said the girls would be released in exchange for Islamist fighters held in Nigerian custody.
Boko Haram has used kidnapping as a weapon, seizing thousands of women and , and forcibly conscripting men and boys, in a conflict that has killed an estimated 20,000 since 2009.
The men and boys have been forced to fight in Boko Haram's ranks, while the girls and women have been turned into sex slaves and even s.
said this week some 952,000 of the 2.6 million people displaced by the violence were children, who had been "robbed" of their right to education by attacks on schools.
UNICEF said separately there had been a sharp rise in the use of children as human bombs. Three-quarters of the child bombers in attacks from January 2014 to February 2016 were girls.
|Boko Haram Releases Another Video Pledging Allegiance To ISIS|
|[SAHARAREPORTERS] The terrorist organization Abubakar Shekau speaking about Islam. analysts questioned the authenticity and timing of the video and cautioned the public from overstating its importance.has released another video pledging its support to the of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which emerged yesterday on social media sites. The video is reportedly titled "Investigate" and was first released on March 31st, 2016. The latest video depicting Boko Haram comes about two weeks after another video emerged on March 24th, reportedly of Boko Haram leader|
|Leader of Ansaru Islamist militant group arrested in Nigeria|
|[FRANCE24] The leader of Nigeria's Ansaru jihadist group, a splinter group ideologically aligned to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, has been , an army said on Sunday.|
Khalid al-Barnawi is one of three Nigerians listed by Washington in 2012 as "specially designated global terrorists".
The US Department of State in June 2012 named Barnawi alongside Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau and Ansaru founder Abubakar Adam Kambar as terrorists.
"Security agents made a breakthrough on Friday in the fight against terrorism by arresting Khalid al-Barnawi, the leader of Ansaru terrorist group in Lokoja," military Brigadier General Rabe Abubakar said.
"He is among those on top of the list of our wanted terrorists," he added.
Lokoja is the capital of Nigeria's central Kogi state.
"Shekau is the most visible leader of the Nigeria-based group Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati Wal-Jihad, commonly referred to as Boko Haram," the US state department said 2012.
"Khalid al-Barnawi and Abubakar Adam Kambar have ties to Boko Haram and have close links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb," it said in a statement.
Al-Barnawi assumed the leadership of Ansaru following the death of Kambar in a military raid on his hideout in Kano in March 2012.
"We are very happy about this development (arrest). It is a great breakthrough in our fight against insurgency in the country," Information Minister Lai Mohammed told AFP.
A serving army officer added that his arrest was "a huge succees and will have a profound effect on counter-terrorism operations in Nigeria and beyond".
"He is a known transnational terrorist and the backbone of all Al-Qaeda affiliate groups in west Africa," the officer, who asked not to be named, told AFP.
Ansaru, a splinter group of Boko Haram, specialising in high profile killings and attacks on global interests, is also linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Barnawi, 47, whose real name is Usman Umar Abubakar, hailed from Biu town in restive northeast Borno state.
He and his group have been involved in a string of kidnappings of mostly foreigners.
The group comprises mostly western-educated Boko Haram members who were trained in AQIM camps in the Algerian desert.
They disapproved of Boko Haram's indiscriminate bombing and shooting campaign, preferring instead high profile killings and attacks on western interests.
Kamber and al-Barnawi were both former close allies of the late Boko Haram sect leader Mohammed Yusuf.
Al-Barnawi was the alleged of the 2011 kidnap of a Briton and an Italian, both construction engineers, in northern Kebbi state.
The two hostages were killed in a failed rescue bid by British and Nigerian Special Forces in the northern city of Sokoto in 2012.
Trained in Afghanistan and Algeria, he was also behind the 2012 kidnap of a German construction engineer ‐ Edgar Raupach ‐ in the northern city of Kano.
The German was killed along with four captors in a botched rescue operation by Nigerian troops the same year at a hideout on the outskirts of Kano, where the group is mostly based.
Ansaru also claimed a 2012 attack on a maximum security facility in Abuja where detained Islamists were being held, killing two and freeing 40 inmates.
With the emergence of Ansaru, Barnawi's faction became independent of Boko Haram but still maintained ties.
The group also for the kidnap of a French engineer, Francis Collomp, in northern Katsina state in 2012. He escaped later escaped.
Ansaru claimed the December 26, 2012 attack on a maximum security facility in Abuja where captured Islamists were being held, killing two and freeing 40 detainees.
The group said it was responsible for a 2013 attack on a convoy of Mali-bound Nigerian troops in Kogi state, killing two soldiers and seriously wounding five others.
It issued a statement condemning Nigeria's participation in the "war against the Islamic state of northern Mali".
|Nigeria’s Boko Haram Releases New Video Denying Surrender|
|[ENGLISH.ALMANAR.LB]Abubakar Shekau appeared in a rare message looking dejected and frail. released a new video Friday denying any suggestion it might surrender, just over a week after shadowy leader |
Shekau, unseen on camera for more than a year, released an unverified video late last month saying his time in charge of the Nigerian 'jihadist' group may be coming to an end.
If the video indeed depicts Shekau, he appears thin and listless, delivering his message without his trademark rhetoric.
It prompted speculation from the army that the group was on the verge of collapse in the face of a sustained military counter-insurgency.
in Friday's message, Boko Haram maintained it was a potent fighting force, with men holding AK-47s posing in front of Toyota Hilux pick-up trucks and a lorry mounted with a military cannon.
"You should know that there is no truce, there is no negotiations, there is no surrender," an unidentified masked man in camouflage said in a prepared script in Hausa, the dominant language in the north, in the video posted on YouTube.
"This war between us will not stop."
The video, of markedly better quality than Shekau's and including Arabic subtitles, featured nine masked Boko Haram fighters standing on sandy ground in an undisclosed desert location.
It is unclear if the masked people in the video include the Boko Haram leader.
Shekau was still the head of the "West African wing", said the masked speaker, likening Boko Haram to the insurgencies in Iraq, Libya and Syria.
In March 2015, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIL group, another deadly terror organization.
But there were few signs that Boko Haram -- now styled as ISIL in West Africa Province (ISWAP) -- has drawn benefits from the partnership.
Since then Nigeria's army has won back swathes of territory from the s, liberating thousands of people who had been living under Boko Haram control.
The video appears to confirm collaboration between Boko Haram and the ISIL group, Africa security specialist Ryan Cummings told AFP.
"The production quality bears the hallmarks of the ISIL's media wing," Cummings said, explaining that it is expected that Shekau shun the limelight.
"A hallmark of the group and its affiliates is that you very seldom see leaders," Cummings said.
The analyst said it still remains to be seen what support, if any, the ISIL group is offering to Boko Haram on the ground.
"What we do know is that there has been a pledge of allegiance and we are seeing Boko Haram communiqués being spread around cyberspace by accounts," Cummings said.
"Whether that has been translated into any operational links in the field, I don't think there's enough verifiable evidence to suggest that."
|Shekau's New Video: Hanging it up|
|[AITONLINE.TV] Following the recent video footage released by the Abubakar Shekau announcing and enjoining his fighters to surrender, a group, the Coalition for Women Advancement in Africa (COWAA) has described the development as a major breakthrough by the military in the war against the Boko Haram insurgency. leader, |
In a on Sunday, Executive Vice President of the group, Mrs Jummai Samuel Pukat said the group in its quest to authenticate the video, has recruited the services of forensic experts and can ascertain the veracity of the video by Shekau.
|Nigerians divided over Boko Haram surrenders video|
|[NEWS24.NG] Reactions have started trailing the video by the leader of terrorist sect Abubakar Shekau asking his supporters to embrace peace and stop the fighting., |
While some are casting doubts over the authenticity of the call to surrender by the leader, others seem to believe the video, adding that the recent moves of President Muhammadu Buhari seeking coalition with other Islamic nations may be yielding fruits.
Some parties believe is just a ploy by the terrorist to relax the military onslaught against them. They said it is only when Boko Haram wants to carry out mass attacks later that they come out with such videos, just to distract Nigerians.
Some even connected the 'surrender' to President Muhammadu Buhari's ascension to power. They believe the president is a huge sponsor of the terror group. So in order to give credit to him, the decided to surrender just to make it look as if he defeated terrorism during his reign as president.
Some are asking the question that if truly the are throwing in the towel and ensuing for peace, how come the Chibok school girls captured over a year ago have not been released.
In the video, released online, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau could be seen advising his followers to "surrender to save themselves".
Although the footage appears to show a defeated Shekau surrendering power, contrary opinions have emerged from analysts who have reviewed the video.
Analysts believe that Shekau is not relinquishing power but instead using the video to let his followers know that he is alive, contrary to several media reports.
Although the footage appears to show a defeated Shekau surrendering power, contrary opinions have emerged from analysts who have reviewed the video.
According to a Naij report, analysts believe that Shekau is not relinquishing power but instead using the video to let his followers know that he is alive, contrary to several media reports.
|Boko Haram's Shekau quits?|
|[NEWS.YAHOO] Abubakar Shekau appeared on video for the first time in more than a year on Thursday, rejecting rumours about his death but appearing to signal his time in charge of the Nigerian jihadist group may be coming to an end. leader |
In a message that contained none of the defiant bluster, taunts and denunciation of of previous videos and will likely be interpreted as an admission of defeat, the dejected-looking Shekau declared in the Hausa language: "For me the end has come".
|Whither Boko Haram?|
|[THENATIONONLINENG.NET] So, is alive and well? Not quite.|
For one, the frontal attacks on big towns and cities, with the anarchists thumping their noses against Nigeria's much-vaunted federal might has fizzled out. So has the lunatic boasts of Abubakar Shekau or his corresponding ghosts, as he bobbed up from yes-he's-dead-no-he's-not-dead sickening tales from the presidency, and its army high command.
But the threat seems to have retreated to the pristine hit-and-run guerrilla tactics, of Boko Haram's battle-entry strategy, before it was allowed to festered by an apologetic and hesitating presidency. That a DPO reportedly lost his life in the Adawama attack echos those dire beginnings, when Boko Haram on Okada would attack police posts, kill luckless in there and set free detainees in the facilities' cells.
Yet, between January 2015 and January 2016, Boko Haram has been so heavily degraded that talks about mass resettlement of the thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) don't sound so fantastic and far-fetched again.
If Hardball were even to be more date-dramatic, he would insist that in seven months, a sure-footed and determined government has all but checkmated a seven-year insurgency, that looked like raging undeterred for no less than another seven years, at the very least!
But if the media remains sceptical at President Buhari's claim that the war against Boko Haram had been substantially won, it is because humans are basically pain-avoiding; a traumatised people, even more so. That would explain the seeming waywardness and obduracy of the Biblical Israelites who, after being saved from Egyptian tyranny, en route to the promised land, would forget the last celestial munificence, no matter how grand, and scream at Jehovah to return them to Egypt, rather kill them all in the desert between Egypt and Canaan.
Of course, the 15 killed in the latest Adamawa attack are humans with flesh and blood, families and loved ones. They are not just mere stats to be compared and discounted. That means the war won't be fully won, until every inch of Nigerian territory is safe from Boko Haram's plague.
Still, Nigerians cannot afford to be as obdurate and stiff-necked as the Israelites of old. We should applaud the government to more success, when it is doing well, just as we reserve the right to excoriate it, when it falters.
On Boko Haram, the Buhari Presidency has done well. But it should not rest until those blood-sucking criminals are totally sacked from our land.
|Boko Haram Kill Seven in Suicide Attack, Raid|
|[AnNahar] have mounted their first attacks since Nigeria's government declared them "technically" defeated, killing seven people in a raid and , residents told AFP Wednesday.|
The attacks happened on Tuesday in the northeastern state of Borno, near the Islamists' Sambisa Forest hideout, where the army is looking to flush out remnants of the rebel group.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who has made crushing the rebellion a priority, in December said a sustained counter-offensive had reduced the group's ability to strike effectively.
The first attack happened in Izgeki village, said one resident, who gave his name as Isyaku, from the town of Mubi in neighboring Adamawa state.
"I received information from my relatives who fled the attack... that some Boko Haram on bicycles attacked Izgeki across the river from Izghe on Tuesday morning where they killed two people.
"The attack forced villagers to cross the river into Izghe. The pursued them. One of them who had a suicide belt on him near the market, killing five people."
Izghe was previously attacked in February 2014 where more than 100 people were killed as the rebels torched homes, opened fire and set off explosives.
Thousands of residents fled the attack into Adamawa towards the town of Madagali and elsewhere but following the army's recapture of territory, some managed to return and begin reconstruction.
Izghe is in the district of Gwoza, which Boko Haram captured in August 2014 and which the group's shadowy leader Abubakar Shekau declared the center of its self-styled caliphate.
Ayuba Chibok, an elder in the town of the same name, said there was also an attack in the nearby village of Nchiha at about 10:00 pm (2100 GMT) on Tuesday.
"Luckily no-one was hurt but they (Boko Haram ) looted food and burnt a large part of the village," he added. Residents managed to flee.
Boko Haram kidnapped some 276 girls from their school in Chibok in April 2014 in a daring raid that captured world attention. Fifty seven escaped soon afterwards but 219 are still being held.
|Boko Haram 'Most Wanted' Poster Yields First Arrest|
|[AnNahar] Nigeria's military has said it has made its first arrest as a result of publishing a list of the 100 "most wanted" suspects.|
Army Colonel Sani Usman said in an emailed statement late on Sunday that one man whose photograph featured on the poster was spotted and held at Abuja airport.
"Chindo Bello was apprehended by aviation security as he was boarding (an) Aero Contractors' flight to Lagos," he said.
No further details were given about Bello or when he was held but Usman said security agents were tipped off and the arrest was made "as he attempted to flee".
He was handed over to military intelligence for questioning, he added.
The "most wanted" poster, published in English and the local, northeastern languages of Hausa and Kanuri late last month, appeals for public help in tracking down suspected Boko Haram members.
The group's leader Abubakar Shekau features twice in the rows of colour photographs, reflecting the military's belief he is in fact a composite character played by lookalikes.
President Muhammadu Buhari has called for the public's help in providing intelligence to the military, particularly with the Islamists having increased attacks on urban areas.