WASHINGTON — Six months after Boko Haram terrorists seized more than 200 girls from the Chibok Government Secondary School, the Nigerian government is claiming it’s still trying to bring them home and the White House says it’s still helping the effort.
The #BringBackOurGirls hashtag campaign saw its 15 minutes of prominence in Washington circles, with a few dedicated lawmakers continuing the effort. The al-Qaeda affiliate briefly became a household term yet has since slinked to the back-burner and continued its rampage across Nigeria outside of the mainstream news cycle. At least seven of the girls’ parents have since been killed in Boko Haram attacks and the terrorists, better equipped than ever, have been on a steady march through Borno state to claim more territory for the caliphate.
They’ve seeped into Cameroon, kidnapping the wife of Vice Prime Minister Amadou Ali. Sahara Reporters revealed this weekend that Boko Haram got four of its commanders released from prison in exchange for her return and the release of other hostages, along with at least $400,000 and a nice cache of arms and ammunition.
Last week, Nigeria’s defense chief criticized the U.S. for not helping the counterterrorism efforts in the region while publicly focusing on ISIS.
“Boko Haram is not different with ISIS in Iraq and Syria, in fact our own people are more vicious, but everybody has gone to Syria, to go and bomb!” Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh said. “Who has come to your aid? You have just been left alone to do it.”
U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria James Entwistle fired back that the two countries have a “strong military relationship,” adding “the idea that U.S. doesn’t support Nigeria is not true.”
Entwistle told a news conference Thursday that cooperation included sharing equipment, training soldiers and sharing intelligence.
“There are still some open questions on who they are, what they want,” he said of Boko Haram, the group that recently has hailed self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. “A year ago, I would have said they were religiously motivated. But as they killed more and more Muslims, it’s hard for me to believe that they were motivated by religion.”
“Who are these guys and what do they want? I don’t think we really understand them,” the ambassador added.
Entwistle also questioned “how in the last year” Boko Haram had morphed into a conventional army and “became more effective.”
The Nigeria Security Network, a collaboration of security experts and academics, recently issued a report finding that while Boko Haram units outside of the northeast continue to stage “hit-and-run assaults” largely for “psychological effect,” in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states they are now “aggressively challenging the Nigerian military through direct confrontation in open and sustained battle,” including the reported use of tanks and artillery.
The White House took their information offensive one step further today, releasing a fact sheet of what it says is being done to help the counterterrorism effort in Nigeria.
“Boko Haram is still holding over 200 of our sisters captive. What we’re doing to help,” Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett tweeted along with the list.
It included “advisory support” such as a “multi-disciplinary team” sent to Abuja in May “to advise the Nigerians on how to secure the safe return of those kidnapped, encourage a comprehensive approach to address insecurity, and establish a capacity to respond more effectively in the future.”
The team includes “civilian and humanitarian experts, U.S. military personnel, law enforcement advisors and investigators as well experts in hostage negotiations, strategic communications, civilian security, and intelligence.”
The White House also highlighted sanctions passed against Boko Haram in 2012, a reward offered for the capture of leader Abubakar Shekau in 2013, and the November 2013 designation of Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization — years after it began bombings, assassinations and kidnappings in 2009.
“The United States is committed to supporting efforts by Nigeria and its neighbors to combat the threat of Boko Haram more effectively and in a manner that respects human rights through a variety of assistance programs designed to advance regional cooperation, bolster rule of law, and strengthen security institutions,” the fact sheet said, noting a $40 million Global Security Contingency Fund for Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria to counter Boko Haram.
The administration also stressed USAID programs in the region, such as counseling for those traumatized by Boko Haram and a Hausa-language TV station broadcasting to northern Nigeria “programming with themes that reject political violence and violent extremism.”
National Security Advisor Susan Rice was tasked with the official White House statement on the anniversary of the Chibok girls’ kidnapping, and vowed to “continue to work toward the release of all the girls who remain in captivity, even as we celebrate the freedom of the few who have managed to escape Boko Haram’s clutches.”
“These efforts are part of our broader support to Nigeria’s pursuit of a holistic counterterrorism strategy, which includes the rule of law and strengthened security institutions,” Rice said.
Press secretary Josh Earnest stressed to reporters today that the U.S. was using “concerted, effective and responsible actions” to help bring back the girls.
When asked why they were still missing, Earnest replied, “You probably have to talk to somebody who is a better analyst of the Nigerian government to draw that assessment.”
State Department press secretary Jen Psaki didn’t mention the anniversary or Boko Haram at today’s briefing.
“The State Department ignored clear evidence that Boko Haram posed a serious terrorist threat for years – costing hundreds of lives,” Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) told PJM today. “It’s become evident that this Administration has unfortunately downplayed terrorist threats including ISIS. And not only did Secretary Clinton ignore outside intelligence from the FBI and Defense Department, but she ignored the actual data State Department was supposed to use for its own reports to Congress.”
In June, Vitter sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking multiple questions surrounding why Boko Haram was not designated a terrorist organization in 2011 and 2012.
“It’s good the administration is doing something to fight against this terrorist group, but I still want to know why it took Hillary Clinton and the State Department so long to actually acknowledge this threat – and what they were hiding in the process,” the senator added.
Boko Haram’s campaign of terror continues, with jihadists beheading civilians, burning churches, and claiming responsibility for downing a Nigerian air force jet that the government swears is just missing.
“He was identified as a pastor by one of the Boko Haram men and they slaughtered him right there,” family told Nigeria’s Daily Sun of 44-year-old father of four Eluid Mshelizza Gwamna, murdered near the end of September.
Nigeria claimed to have killed the group’s leader, but Shekau surfaced in a video this month mocking that assertion. “Here I am, alive. I will only die the day Allah takes my breath,” Shekau said, jumping on a truck and firing an anti-aicraft gun. “We are running our caliphate, our Islamic caliphate. We follow the Koran… We now practice the injunctions of the Koran in the land of Allah.”
The new issue of the Islamic State’s magazine, Dabiq, gives a nod to Boko Haram’s kidnappings in an article justifying slavery. “This large-scale enslavement of mushrik families is probably the first since the abandonment of this Sharī’ah law. The only other known case – albeit much smaller – is that of the enslavement of Christian women and children in the Philippines and Nigeria by the mujāhidīn there.”
Shekau said in a video released a few weeks after the kidnapping that the Chibok girls, some believed to have been quickly taken into neighboring Chad and Cameroon, would be up for sale.
“God instructed me to sell them, they are his properties and I will carry out his instructions,” the terror leader said.