The news is filled with details of ISIS’s latest atrocities. The pundits are busy 24 hours a day opining on what the president will and will not do about the spread of this menace.
Across Europe, the Middle East and Asia authorities are seized with the necessity to find a way to stop the flood of new recruits flocking to the banners of this mad, barbaric, self-proclaimed caliphate.
Meanwhile, in sub-Saharan Africa, almost unnoticed, a second “caliphate” has been proclaimed, and another nation is teetering on the edge of oblivion.
Boko Haram is a Nigerian terrorist organization, which adheres to essentially the same ideology as ISIS. It is based in the northeastern part of Nigeria in an impoverished region of the country, which is heavily Muslim. Its name translates roughly as “Western education is sinful.”
Boko Haram is not a new group. It has been around for years. In recent years, however, it has become increasingly violent and expansionist. Its avowed goal is the creation of an Islamic state not simply in Nigeria but throughout the world.
Over the last few months, that expansionist drive, much like that of ISIS, has gone into overdrive. The leader of Boko Haram has declared the existence of an Islamic caliphate in northern Nigeria. Boko Haram forces have seized a number of major towns in northeastern Nigeria and are threatening to take control of Maiduguri, the capital city in the state of Borno. At least 1 million people live in Maiduguri. Borno state has a population of somewhere in the neighborhood of five million.
Nigerian government forces are melting away in front of Boko Haram much as Iraqi forces did before ISIS. Crippled by poor morale, incompetent leadership, and massive equipment failures, Nigerian forces simply lack the capacity to stand and fight against the fanatical followers of Boko Haram. Jihad in Nigeria is not only not contained, it is gathering speed.
For most Americans, while tragic, these events probably seem distant and largely irrelevant. sub-Saharan Africa is simply not an area to which we pay a great deal of attention. Nigeria is not a significant concern.
It should be.
Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa. Projections are, in fact, that by the end of this century the population of Nigeria will surpass 1 billion people. Perhaps one in every ten people on the planet will live in Nigeria.
Nigeria is one of the world’s largest oil producers. The vast wealth that oil produces now flows largely into the pockets of corrupt Nigerian politicians and businessmen. When and if Boko Haram takes control of Nigeria, it will become overnight fabulously wealthy and correspondingly dangerous.
We will be faced not simply with a terrorist state but with one that has the resources to create full fledged armed forces, equip itself with the latest weaponry and support prolonged warfare outside its borders.
Perhaps most importantly, Nigeria sits on the edge of the giant tinderbox that is sub-Saharan Africa. This is the world’s poorest region, one that is being buffeted by the crippling forces of overpopulation, drought and climate change. This is a region that is already home to numerous other extremist groups besides Boko Haram.
The emergence of a wealthy, independent Islamic terrorist state in Nigeria would have the same impact as tossing a lit match into a pool of jet fuel. Another entire region of the world would explode in civil war and genocide.
There is no immediate, simple answer to the problem of Boko Haram. Crafting an approach to containing it and then rolling back its advances will take time and considerable effort. The first step down that road, however, is recognizing the true lessons we should draw from Boko Haram’s advances, the emergence of ISIS and the rise of other Islamic terrorist groups around the world.
We are engaged in a worldwide fight with Islamic extremism. This was never a “war on terror,” however politically acceptable that phraseology may have seemed. It has always been a struggle to defeat a movement dedicated to hijacking one of the world’s great religions and dragging it back into the dark ages.
Neither has this ever been a war with al-Qaida per se. Defeating “al-Qaida central,” while a worthy objective, was never going to be the end of anything. We are fighting an enemy that is morphing constantly before our eyes and will continue to do so.
Finally, this is not a conflict, which will end anytime in the foreseeable future. On the contrary, as far as we can see into the future, the forces of Islamic extremism will demand our attention. It is time we accepted that and began to craft strategies to cope with a violent and unstable planet.
There are now two caliphates. There will be many more.
Charles S. Faddis, President of Orion Strategic Services, LLC, is a former CIA operations officer with 20 years of experience in the conduct of intelligence operations in the Middle East, South Asia, and Europe. He is the senior intelligence editor for AND Magazine and a contributor to a wide variety of counterterrorism and homeland security journals. His nonfiction works include "Operation Hotel California," a history of the actions of his team inside Iraq from 2002 to 2003, "Willful Neglect," an examination of homeland security, and "Beyond Repair," an argument for intelligence reform. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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