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A report by an intelligence think tank indicates the operational capability of the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram isn’t increasing and may actually have been weakened.
That’s because even though the Muslim terror group’s death toll this year reached 770, many were “soft targets” such as innocent bystanders at a girls school.
The report by intelligence analyst Scott Stewart says many in the intelligence community believe Boko Haram’s 2012 death toll alone signals that the group is becoming an even greater threat.
“In the wake of the Jaji attacks, media reports quoted human rights groups saying that Boko Haram has killed more people in 2012 than ever before. The group has killed roughly 770 people this year, leading many to conclude that Boko Haram has become more dangerous,” Stewart wrote.
But Stewart added that the death toll has been counterbalanced by the actions of the Nigerian military.
“It is important to look beyond the sheer number of fatalities when drawing such conclusions about a group like Boko Haram. Indeed, a less cursory look at the group reveals that while 2012 has been a particularly deadly year, the Nigerian government has curtailed the group’s capabilities.”
Stewart said in an interview with WND that after a pair of 2011 attacks, Boko Haram was expected to further refine strategy and tactics.
“In 2011 after the botched suicide … attack against the police HQ in Abuja and then the successful … attack against the U.N. compound in Abuja, we saw the group rapidly graduate from simple attacks with Molotovs and small IEDs to these suicide attacks,” Stewart said.
‘We expected them to continue to develop operationally, but they have not.”
Stewart explained the assessment.
“I think the details of Boko Haram’s attacks speak for themselves. As I noted in the analysis, they have been relegated to attacks against soft targets and mostly in their home territory as of late,” he said.
Stewart said that the attacks are tragic and that he’s not downplaying the significance of the deaths. However, his analysis is based on the strategic meaning of a “soft target.”
“So sure, they can attack a girl’s school, like they did in Bama in Borno state, and kill some innocent people, but they haven’t demonstrated the operational capacity to attack hard targets,” Stewart said.
Stewart said that Boko Haram’s operational capacity has been enhanced by their connection to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. However, he said, Boko Haram hasn’t developed to its full capacity.
“So I think the AQIM influence was certainly seen in their rapid increase in tactical sophistication in mid-2012, but we certainly have not seen Boko Haram advance to nearly the level of sophistication of other groups in the region such as al Shabaab,” Stewart said.
“Compare the operational sophistication of al Shabaab attacks in Mogadishu against the Boko Haram attacks in Abuja, and you can see what I mean when I characterize them as a limited threat,” Stewart said.
However, Heritage Foundation Africa specialist Morgan Roach said Boko Haram’s target selection is not as significant as the group’s growth pattern over the past three years.
“It’s important to look at the larger picture rather than scrutinizing each, individual incident. Since 2009, Boko Haram has continued to expand its influence through sophisticated tactics, undoubtedly with the assistance of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (North Africa) and others,” Roach said.
Roach also disputes reports claiming Nigeria’s security forces have had any tactical gains. Roach believes that the opposite is actually true.
“Its area of operation is no longer limited to Nigeria and the government has utterly failed to curb its terror, to much embarrassment,” Roach said.
Roach forecasts that the next few weeks may be deadly.
“Additionally, with Christmas and the new year approaching, I expect Boko Haram’s violence to increase in the coming weeks,” Roach said.
International Christian Concern Africa analyst William Stark agrees. Stark believes the Muslim terror group’s capabilities are largely unchanged.
“Boko Haram’s operational capability probably is remaining at the same level. They have probably just gone a little inactive for the time being,” Stark said.
Stark believes Nigerian security forces’ actions against the terrorist group are showing conflicting results.
“In regards to the Nigerian government’s response to Boko Haram, the results have been mixed. A couple of months ago, Nigerian security forces in a town in Boko Haram territory rounded up young men, took them outside of town and shot them execution style,” Stark said.
“Needless to say, this gave Boko Haram more supporters in that area,” Stark said.
He added that there are two factors that indicate Boko Haram hasn’t been silenced.
“Links between Boko Haram and al-Qaida in northern Mali were discovered and discussed in a report by U.S. Military Commander in Africa General Carter F. Ham,” Stark said.
“His report stated that Boko Haram was receiving funds, weapons and training from the terrorist cell that has taken control of Mali’s northern regions. I believe the connection between Boko Haram and al-Qaida may increase, or at least maintain, Boko Haram’s current operation capabilities,” Stark said.
Stark added that even if Boko Haram has been weakened, it still is able to inflict misery.
“Doesn’t the fact that the U.S. military connected Boko Haram to a well-established terrorist cell in Mali give evidence to the group’s operational capabilities?” Stark asked.
Further, Stark suggested that any attack Boko Haram carries out still requires effort and planning.
“And doesn’t it take complex operational planning to sneak two suicide bombers onto a military base and coordinate their detonation to achieve maximum damage?” Stark said.
Stark added that most of the time, analysts neglect the human cost.
“I don’t think it matters too much to Christians living in northern Nigeria what weapons Boko Haram uses to persecute them. Whether it’s suicide bombers at a church or machetes and clubs, who is to say which is worse?” Stark said.
“On Dec. 1, a mob of suspected Boko Haram extremists entered the village of Chibok located in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Borno (where Boko Haram started its operations). The mob moved from house to house in a Christian populated part of the village and slit the throats of 10 villagers including a pastor,” Stark said.
“Maybe Boko Haram is losing some of its operational capabilities, but does that make the attack in Chibok any less terrible?” Stark said.