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Nigerian military leaders have been refocusing their strategy towards Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram. This week, the Nigerian military rescued 338 Boko Haram hostages, mostly women and children, in the group's northeastern stronghold in the Sambisa forest. The Nigerian military has also announced the creation of a new special brigade in an "important and strategic" location in Borno state, the same state from which over 270 girls in the town of Chibok were kidnapped last year.
These actions reflect a commitment to a strict deadline set by newly elected Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who pledged to destroy the Islamist group during his presidential campaign earlier this year. A key part of Buhari's platform was the destruction of Boko Haram, and after entering office in May, he ordered Nigerian military leaders to complete this goal by December.
This past year has shown important steps toward achieving this objective. On July, the Nigerian military announced the creation of a new task force in coordination with Chad, Benin, Niger, and Cameroon to combat Boko Haram, and this force is said to be more efficient than its predecessor formed in February. The effort is composed of 8,700 soldiers from all five countries.
Established in 2002, Boko Haram has been carrying out attacks against Christians and Muslims in northern Nigeria and neighboring African countries. While the exact death toll is unknown, tens of thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. Earlier this year, the militant group pledged its allegiance to Daesh (ISIS), and similar to the Middle Eastern group, has captured media attention in the past few years for its barbaric attacks.
Under the administration of former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, there were many signs of reluctance to coordinate with neighboring African countries on countering the militant group in Nigeria. A BBC report quoted a diplomat as saying that Nigeria had been passive on the issue and "dragging its feet at the Security Council."
In contrast, Buhari has displayed a firm commitment to defeating Boko Haram, supporting the joint task force and working with international partners like France for intelligence and arms to combat Boko Haram. However, Buhari and the joint task force face many obstacles before they can definitively claim that they have eradicated Boko Haram from the region and the December deadline does not appear to provide enough time to defeat the organization.
Some military sources say Boko Haram's threat is not diminishing, but evolving – pointing to a shifting underground presence and increased use of suicide bombs. While the growing number of attacks may be reflective of the group's desperation, the threat is not as diminshed as Nigerian officials suggest. There are continued reports of spreading Boko Haram activity and the recent suicide attacks have had a devastating effect on Nigerians and neighboring countries.
On a more encouraging note, Buhari has shown taken the initiative in removing Boko Haram from the region and a willingness to cooperate with international forces. Though it seems unlikely the deadline to defeat Boko Haram will be met, he is the first Nigerian president since the arrival of the group in Nigeria to make a commitment to credibility and persistence in fighting the group.
By Adaeze Eze