Amid universal outrage at Boko Haram’s kidnapping of 200 girls in northern Nigeria last spring — and galvanised by the #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign — President Barack Obama sent 80 troops in May to aid in surveillance and help apprehend the jihadist group.
Almost a year later, the situation has gotten even worse: the girls remain in the clutches of Boko Haram, the group continues on its killing spree and the U.S. has pulled back its troops.
That mission apparently ended in late 2014, a Pentagon spokesperson told Business Insider.
“We don’t have any troops in Chad right now,” said Major James Brindle on March 10. Chad-based US surveillance flights were being coordinated with the Nigerian military, and the Nigerians apparently stopped requesting them. So the US troops were redeployed.
“We continued flying [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] flights on a level agreed upon with the government of Nigeria,” Brindle explained, “and the issue was the number of requested missions had dropped to the point that we were able to cover it through other means.”
The mass abduction was the most internationally galvanizing atrocity Boko Haram committed in 2014, a year in which the group killed over 6,000 people, took over much of northeastern Nigeria, declared its own Islamic state, triggered military reactions from all of Nigeria’s northern neighbours, and put itself on the path towards pledging allegiance to ISIS.
In late May of 2014, Obama announced the troop deployment. As Business Insider explained at the time, the deployment was meant to aid in surveillance of the remote areas in which Boko Haram operated, and where the US didn’t have much of an on-the-ground intelligence presence.
The recent redeployment doesn’t necessarily mean that the US has stopped aiding in the search for the Chibok girls. And by all accounts, Nigeria’s military is far more engaged in the fight against Boko Haram than it was a year ago.
But relations between Nigeria and the US have also frayed since then, with Nigeria abruptly ending a military training program in December of 2014. And Rudy Atallah, the CEO of White Mountain Research and a former US Air Force officer who specialises in West African security issues, doubts that the US’s commitment to the fight against Boko Haram was ever all that deep. “I believe the troops were a knee-jerk reaction by the Obama Administration to say it’s doing something about the Chibok girls without really getting involved,” Atallah told Business Insider.
The absence of US troops from the area could start the matter, though. It’s possible that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force against the Islamic State currently being discussed in Congress will give the president the ability to fight ISIS’s various international affiliates. Boko Haram may be covered under the authorization, since its leader recently released an audio message pledging allegiance to ISIS.
The US military deployed to southern Chad partly because the US needed to develop the intelligence and expertise needed to fight Boko Haram. But with US troops out of the Chadian-Nigerian border region, that might be a harder goal to accomplish — at a time when Boko Haram is trying to establish ties with what might be the most dangerous terrorist group in the world.
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