On Feb. 6, Boko Haram attacked the border town of Bosso in Niger, leaving at least five Nigerien soldiers wounded. Two days earlier, the Nigerian armed group went on a rampage near the town of Fotokol in Cameroon, killing an estimated 100 civilians. The latest escalation follows Boko Haram’s warnings to Nigeria’s neighbors after the African Union (AU) approved a 7,500-strong force from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin to fight the insurgent group.

Nigeria’s military has proved incapable of containing the insurgency, which in recent weeks has overrun many villages and displaced tens of thousands of people. A strong multinational force may rout the militants and help stabilize northeastern Nigeria and border communities in Niger and Cameroon, but the regional plan faces a number of obstacles. For one, as demonstrated by Boko Haram’s latest offensive in Niger and Cameroon, it risks regionalizing a largely domestic insurgency. Second, it does not address the conditions that gave rise to Boko Haram.
The creation of a Multi-National Joint Task Force was greeted with international approval. “They have committed unspeakable brutality,” United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said of Boko Haram in a speech at of the AU summit in Ethiopia in January. “Those terrorists should be addressed with a regional and international cooperation.” His support is likely to bolster AU’s request for funding from the U.N. Security Council. The mission’s structure and mandate remains unclear, but countries as ideologically diverse as Iran and the United States have pledged support.
However, the scope of foreign military intervention in Nigeria needs to be clearly delineated to avoid undermining the country’s sovereignty. West African governments have a history of meddling in one another’s domestic politics, sometimes through tacit support for competing rebel groups and ethnic militias. For example, Chad, which deployed troops to Cameroon to counter Boko Haram even before the establishment of the AU force, has beenaccused of supporting coups in the Central African Republic. Chad and Nigeria have gone to war over the rights to the territory currently threatened by Boko Haram. In 1983 disagreement over the mineral rich area near Lake Chad led to Nigeria’s first major military operation since independence.

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