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Boko Haram Still Lives — But Where?

Suspected members of Boko Haram sitting in court in N'Djamena, Chad, Aug. 26, 2015.
Suspected members of Boko Haram sitting in court in N'Djamena, Chad, Aug. 26, 2015.

The extremist group Boko Haram continues to kill hundreds of people each month with attacks across northeastern Nigeria. At the same time, analysts say it's hard to tell where the fighters are based, as the group appears to control little or no territory.

The Nigerian army announced this week that it had recaptured the town of Gamboru Ngala, along the Cameroonian border, from Boko Haram. What remains unclear is at what point they lost control of it.

The town was occupied by Boko Haram early this year, but then was retaken during a multi-nation offensive that resulted in the militants losing most of the territory they had seized.

At some point after, Boko Haram overran Gamboru again.
Rabe Abubakar, a spokesman for Nigeria’s military, said, “They were there, you know, for some months before this latest [offensive] against them.”

Borno State and Sambisa Forest
Borno State and Sambisa Forest

Abubakar said Boko Haram doesn’t control any other towns in Nigeria. But as this week’s battle in Gamboru Ngala shows, the group remains far from finished.

The governors of Borno and Yobe states in the northeast said in July the militants still controlled five local government areas in their states. And they’re still raiding remote villages, killing hundreds of people each month.

President Muhammadu Buhari last month gave Nigeria's top military commanders three months to defeat Boko Haram.

Michael Clyne, senior analyst at Drum Cussac said that has put the military under pressure to announce successes against the group.

“We may well … continue to see reports that the military has quote, retaken territory from Boko Haram, territory that we didn’t know was held to begin with,” said Clyne.

Despite battlefield losses earlier this year, Boko Haram maintains a large fighting force that’s able to hide along Nigeria’s northeast border, according to Clyne. That will prove a challenge for the military.

“So it might just become a game of whack-a-mole, where you rout out fighters from a certain area, only to have them end up in another place,” said Clyne.

Troops from Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin are supposed to join Nigeria soon in fighting the group. Clyne said it will take years of development and job creation in the northeast, however, to end the insurgency for good.