Is Nigeria the Next Front in America’s Global War On Terror?


During a written exchange with senators after his recent testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Obama administration’s nominee to lead the CIA, John Brennan, argued that there is no geographical limit to the ability of the United States to use military force against suspected terrorists. He explicitly stated: "we do not view our authority to use military force against Al-Qaeda and associated forces as being limited to 'hot' battlefields like Afghanistan." This is logic is clearly evidenced by America’s drone wars in places such as Somalia and Yemen. With concern mounting about the growing strength and violence of the Islamist group Boko Haram in Nigeria, there is a very real chance that Nigeria could become the next front in this seemingly endless and ever expanding war on terror, further perpetuating the idea of a "global battlefield."

Boko Haram’s activities have grown progressively more sophisticated and more violent since 2009. In 2011 the group claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack on the United Nation building in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, which killed at least 21 people. Early last year a series of assaults by Boko Haram led to the deaths of over 180 people in northeastern Nigeria. More recently, a bomb explosion killed three people in the group’s stronghold of Maidugui, while French President Francois Hollande also admitted that the group was behind the kidnapping of a French family in northern Cameroon. Although the group has not claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, a splinter faction called Ansaru has in the past claimed responsibility for the abduction of foreign nationals. 

Primarily active in Nigeria’s largely Muslim north, Boko Haram grew out of a religious movement founded by Islamic sect leader Mohammed Yusuf. The group, whose name means "western education is sacrilegious," rejects Western-style democracy and calls for the implementation of Sharia law. Support for Boko Haram is rooted in crushing poverty and the marginalization of northern Nigeria, which has not benefitted from the introduction of democracy in 1999 in the same way as the political and business elite in the country have.

Although Boko Haram remains a largely localized threat, General Carter Ham, commander of the U.S. military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM), has warned that if left unchecked the group could become a broader threat. In light of these concerns, earlier this month General Ham confirmed that AFRICOM is providing intelligence support to the Nigerian Army to help combat the group’s activities. Furthermore, defense officials have also said that the U.S. is setting up a drone base in neighboring Niger to spy on suspected terrorists in the region. 40 U.S. troops arrived in Niger on Wednesday to help support drone flights, with operations said to be "imminent." Although the drones will only conduct surveillance missions initially, officials have also said that the Obama administration has not ruled out arming them in the future.

The establishment of AFRICOM in October 2008 is itself a sign of the growing U.S. interest in Africa. Since coming to power, President Obama has been steadily increasing America’s military footprint in Africa. From Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in North Africa to Boko Haram in Nigeria and Mali's Islamist Rebels of the Ansar Dine, Nick Turse notes that the "U.S is now involved, directly and by proxy, in military and surveillance operations against an expanding list of regional enemies." And, as Turse also points out, while most "American bases in Africa are still small and austere," they are "growing ever larger and more permanent in appearance."

The establishment of the drone base in Niger is particularly significant, given that it will open another front in the "global battlefield" by providing the Pentagon with a launching pad for operations in a region that is currently beyond the reach of its other drone bases. This deepening of U.S. involvement in Africa also carries with it the risk of further escalation in the future, potentially leading to the expansion of America’s accountability-and-due-process-free targeted assassination program. While no one should deny or condone Boko Haram’s activities, it remains important to highlight the increasing ability of the U.S. to pursue suspected terrorists with impunity around the globe.