A long-awaited regional task force is set to begin raids on Boko Haram’s last enclaves when the rainy season ends soon, the U.N.’s top official in West Africa said.
Nigerian and Chadian forces early this year forced the militant group, which has sworn allegiance to Islamic State, to cede large swathes of territory in northern Nigeria, undermining its six-year campaign to carve out a caliphate.
But some fighters have since regrouped and ramped up suicide attacks and guerrilla raids in the remote border areas around Lake Chad where Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Nigeria meet.
“They will take advantage of the end of the rainy season now to really go after them,” said Mohamed Ibn Chambas, U.N. Special Representative for West Africa, in an interview on Wednesday. The rains in northeast Nigeria typically end in September but have lasted longer this year.
The 8,700-strong joint force, headquartered in Chad’s capital N’Djamena with troops from Chad, Niger, Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon, was supposed to be fully functional in July.
But plans were not finalised until late August, and some observers have bemoaned a lack of progress since.
The African Union and the Lake Chad Basin Commission signed a memorandum of understanding in October giving final implementation guidelines and the United States has sent troops to provide intelligence and other assistance.
The expected joint raids will have to adapt to the changing nature of the enemy, which once attacked with hundreds of fighters aboard scores of vehicles but has been reduced to isolated bands, Chambas said.