Word came this afternoon that the Obama administration has decided to send 300 US soldiers and unarmed Predator drones to the central African nation of Cameroon, to assist a multi-national effort to defeat Boko Haram, based in neighboring Nigeria. Their mission will be to provide reconnaissance and intel for the multi-national force, which consists of troops from Nigeria, Niger, Benin, Cameroon, and Chad.
Boko Haram has been pretty busy over the past month, and pretty expansive about it too. Between September 20 and 21, a series of Boko Haram suicide bombings throughout Nigeria’s Borno region, including its capital city, Maiduguri, killed at least 145 people. On October 1, a group of child suicide bombers struck Maiduguri again and killed at least fifteen people. Then Boko Haram hit Maiduguri a third time on Monday, killing at least five. Over this past weekend, the group was blamed for attacks in Cameroon and Chad that killed at least 45 people in total.
With all that said, and understanding that this is the smallest of military commitments, I still have to wonder why the Obama administration is doing this. Boko Haram is no threat to the United States, unless we make it one of course. Yeah, it’s got some kind of relationship with ISIS, but Boko Haram is a localized group with localized grievances. You can’t even blame their rise on US policy; they’re strictly homegrown out of the Nigerian government’s own failures. Maybe there’s some evidence of operational ties between ISIS and Boko Haram that hasn’t been made public, but barring that what’s the rationale here? Yes, Boko Haram is awful, but is that enough to justify this deployment, however small? Yes, America is eager for any chance to make some inroads into Africa (often seeing such moves, rightly or wrongly, as part of a competition with China), but aren’t there non-military means to achieve that kind of objective without the risk of unintended consequences? Anyway, I’m skeptical.
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