Much has been made recently of links between Daesh and Boko Haram accentuated by the recent claim of responsibility by Daesh of the PBIED attack in Maiduguri of 12th May.
It is the opinion of this commentator that these links are not as important as they appear to be and are in fact an indication of the weakness of these groups, for the following reasons:
Factions: Boko Haram consists of several factions. The relative strength of each faction is unknown however they are all greatly weakened by the counter offensive by Nigeria and allied countries. Senior Boko Haram leaders have been killed and captured allegedly including Ansaru’s leader. ‘Shekau’ has been reduced to occasional audio recordings. It is known that not all factions were in agreement with the alliance with Daesh, thus any claims or actions should be seen as those of an element of Boko Haram rather than the entire group.
Franchises: Daesh itself consists of outposts claimed as Provinces such as those in Libya, Somalia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Yemen etc but the common factor about all these outposts is that they were not created by Daesh expeditionary forces; they are all local groups that declared allegiance to Daesh, thus whilst sharing the same brand might make it easier to form alliances, share weapons, equipment and expertise, they each have local objectives and are geographically removed from each other. Thus Boko Haram sending fighters to Libya might be nice but also might be pointless as there are more than enough fighters in Libya and the wider Maghreb. Nor is it likely to confer to any operational advantage, to Boko Haram as their key need is to be able to train and equip sufficient forces to defeat Nigerian and allied forces and hold ground. This would require a large amount of ammunition, vehicles and fuel, which would be difficult to ship from Libya (much less Somalia or Iraq) without detection. Where these links would help is in terms of specialist weapon systems such as MANPADS or ATGW however they are desperately needed locally and subject to an intense search and destroy operation by dedicated US and other militaries.
Desperation: the Nigerian counter offensive in the North East, MJNTF operations in the Mandara Mountains/ Gamboru Ngala Area and MNJTF operations and Nigerian Special Forces actions in the Lake Chad area, have taken a heavy toll on Boko Haram. Combined with increased and improved indigenous ISR capability as well as US/ UK. France assistance with ISR and intelligence, the enemy is struggling.
Likewise Daesh in Iraq and Syria is under pressure from the Kurds, US and allied Special Forces actions and air strikes, other rebel groups, Iraqi forces as well as (occasionally) Russian and Syrian Regime forces. Daesh in Somalia is being slaughtered al Shabaab, a pattern that is replicated across the franchise. Virtually no ‘franchise’ is in the ascendancy. In this vein it makes sense for Daesh to attempt to project an image of strength by claiming attacks across the globe. However none of this translates to a coordinated global campaign merely local attacks by local actors claimed under the same banner.
Capabilities: this time last year in May/ June the enemy had launched multiple attacks in majority of the LGAs of Borno State as well as attacks in Gombe, Adamawa, Yobe, Cameroun, Niger and Chad, as well as waves of IED attacks on Maiduguri as well as in Yola/ Jimeta, Damaturu, Cameroun and Chad.
This year they have launched 2 this month in Maiduguri, one of which failed. The devices used last year were VBIEDs, PBIEDs consisting of a combination of home made explosives (HME) accentuated with ball bearings and shrapnel or captured cluster bombs which caused devastating casualties. This year they appear to be explosive filled 23mm shells casings. Attacks last year included vehicle mounted attacks on Maiduguri and Army positions around Borno, this year other than 2 local counter attacks within the Sambisa Forest and on Kareto all of which failed the enemy has been unable to attack. Thus it can be seen that so far the alliance with Daesh has not increased Boko Haram’s capabilities or in anyway changed or improved their battlefield fortunes. They were losing then and are still losing now.
Strategic disconnect: as alluded to above each franchise consists of locals with local objectives who have self identified with Daesh, however non of them, are in any position to greatly assist each other. Daesh in Iraq/ Syria can render little assistance to out stations in Libya, Afghanistan, Somalia or Nigeria, beyond sending the odd technical expert and improving their media and social media output. Even if Daesh in Syria/ Iraq was victorious it would spend most of its time defending itself. The Maghrebi, Mediterranean and European powers would ensure Daesh in Libya does not expand or consolidate and even if Daesh in Nigeria was able to seize control of Borno State, beyond the personal tragedies for the occupants, strategically it would not affect Nigeria, who’s administrative centre is hundreds of kilometres away and food producing and industrial areas are to the south and centre.
Conclusion: it is the opinion of this commentator that the links between Daesh and Boko Haram are more cosmetic than concrete Boko Haram was allied with MUJAO, AQIM and now Daesh, when Daesh is no longer fashionable, the remnants of Boko Haram will ally with their successor.
Currently those groups with funds or advanced weaponry such as MANPADS, communications and ISR gear, ATGWs etc desperately need it for themselves, it will be this common use of such equipment and weapons that will indicate a step change Daesh franchises or a coordinated operation. Thus far they do not even have common administrative or operational practices.
So whilst we might see changes in media output and an increase in social media proliferation, we do not see radical operational shifts, changes in tactics or even success. This is because as much as Daesh is keen to claim these groups as Provinces, they are local groups, with local actors and objectives subject to local conditions.