U.S. Sees No Evidence of Close Links Between Boko Haram and Islamic State

The absence of such evidence comes as the administration of President Barack Obama debates how Washington and its allies can best support Nigeria and its neighbors. Some U.S. lawmakers already argue that U.S. aid to the region has been too heavily weighted toward security.
Debate on assistance

U.S. security assistance to the four African countries plagued by Boko Haram—Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon—has soared to more than $400 million since 2014, surpassing aid for governance, human rights, education and rebuilding infrastructure, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report.

The Obama administration is poised to approve the sale of 12 attack aircraft to Nigeria, Reuters reported last month.

The United States also has offered to send a Special Operations mission to advise Nigerian units, and has dedicated more intelligence and surveillance assets to help African forces fight Boko Haram.

Still, some U.S. government experts warn that defeating it requires Nigeria to boost policing, education and development in its Muslim-dominated northeast and to crack down on corruption.

Administration officials say that it's easier to win congressional support for military assistance to fight extremist groups— especially if defense contracts are involved—than it is to muster backing for steps to attack radicalism at its roots.

While it is estimated to have killed more than 15,000 people since 2009, Boko Haram has not attacked U.S. interests and has deep roots in Nigeria's Christian-Muslim divide, which long predates the Syrian-based Islamic extremist group. Those uncertainties have fueled tension over how best to combat the group, and even how to characterize it. In public, U.S. officials rarely call the group Islamic State-West Africa Province, the name it adopted in March 2015.

There have been periodic reports of cooperation between Boko Haram and ISIL's Libyan branch. In April, the New York Times cited a U.S. general in reporting that an arms convoy believed bound for Boko Haram from Libya was intercepted in Chad, providing one of the first concrete examples of cooperation.
Propoganda support

A U.S. counter-terrorism official, however, said that American intelligence has no evidence to support that report. The region is awash in arms, and it's nearly impossible to determine who is sending what to whom, this official said.

U.S. officials told Reuters that they assess that slicker Boko Haram videos prominently displaying ISIS logos were produced by ISIS operatives outside the region.

It was clear to us that there (were) not guys in Nigeria sitting at their laptop putting this stuff together," one official said.A senior U.S. intelligence official said that some Boko Haram fighters have traveled to Libya to "work with Islamic State elements", and that its shadowy leader Abubakr Shekau has established a relationship with the ISIS Libya branch.

But another U.S. official viewed Shekau's pledge of allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi primarily as a rebranding exercise" aimed at boosting the stature of his group, whose leaders previously said it was aligned with al-Qaeda.

U.S. officials and private experts say they fear that as the African military pressure intensifies, the extremists could shift from a regional campaign of suicide bombings, rape and pillage to striking international targets.

The resources and intent of ISIL to attack Western targets, combined with Boko’s ability and strength in that part of Africa is a mix that causes great concern," another U.S. official said.

Senator Chris Murphy, a Foreign Relations Committee member, said that whatever its cooperation with Islamic State, Boko Haram is so deadly that Nigeria and its neighbors should get U.S. help to crush the group.

I think we have an interest in combating this group regardless of their connection to ISIL," he said.

Tom Lori Published by Tom Lori

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