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The Multinational Joint Task Force: achievements and challenges

Repentant Boko Haram militants surrender to MNJTF troops Repentant Boko Haram militants surrender to MNJTF troops © Ripples Nigeria

This article is a presentation of the International Crisis Group’s report on the role of the Multinational Joint Task Force in addressing terrorism

To address a transnational terrorist organisation a multinational effort is generally deemed necessary. Is this assumption applicable to the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) set out to contrast the influence of Boko Haram in the Lake Chad region? The report recently published by the International Crisis Group ‘What Role for the Multinational Joint Task Force in Fighting Boko Haram?’ underlines how cooperation among Lake Chad countries -Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon- is fundamental both for civilian and military scope.  One the one hand, multinational cooperation in the civilian domain is important to create a concrete alternative to militancy and social rehabilitation of former Boko Haram members, whereas, on the other hand, the military component of the operations carried out by the MNJTF addresses the cross-borders jihadist insurgency. 

Originally, the Boko Haram menace aroused in Nigeria, exploiting people’s discontent with government inefficiency and the pervasive political corruption. In 2013 and 2014, the terrorist group has tightened its grip on Cameroon, Chad and Niger and since 2015 the attacks rose, tough the activities of the terrorist group was limited to the borderlands of the four Lake Chad countries. In the past two years, the situation became even more complicated because of the presence of at least three factions of the terrorist organisation which alternated moments of cooperation with phases of competition. One of the most influential among them is the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), which found favour among civilians in Borno State and proved capable of launching advanced attacks on military targets. On the other hand, the border between Nigeria and Niger is the operating base for a second Boko Haram splinter-group, the Bakura faction, which recently was found to be linked with the original Boko Haram group, Jama’tu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’await Wal-Jihad (JAS), whose main theatre of operations is in the Nigeria-Cameroon border area. Currently,  these groups want to gain territory in north-western Nigeria and Niger to come closer to the zones of operations of other Sahel jihadist groups, with whom some of the Boko Haram factions are seeking alliance. 

The first form of cooperation between the countries affected by the terrorist threat consisted of bilateral agreements for cross-border deplacement of troops. Nevertheless, the various countries’ antagonisms undermined the successfulness of the cooperation. The MNJTF, set out in 1994 to deal with transborder criminal activities, was reactivated in late 2014 as the jihadist menace increased. This multinational coalition was composed of countries which presented very diverse perspectives on Boko Haram and, accordingly, envisaged different solutions to the problems related to the terrorist issue. The main objectives of the joint force are to secure the areas affected by the Boko Haram threat, to facilitate the implementation of stabilization programmes and humanitarian operations, to restore State’s authority and to enable the return of IDPs. The MNJTF deserves credit for boosting cooperation among the countries surrounding the Lake Chad which effectively stopped the advance of Boko Haram in 2015-2016, made it split in several factions and, in the period from 2017 to 2019, managed to free civilians in areas controlled by the terrorist group and ensured the delivery of humanitarian aids. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of the multinational coalition was hindered by the resiliency of Boko Haram, on the one hand, and to structural problems within the MNJTF, on the other hand, as for instance, the weak chain of command of the MNJTF military operations and lack and delay of funding. Moreover, the sporadic feature of the military offensives conducted by the MNJTF prevented the task force from securing the territories wrested from Boko Haram and to start reconstructing and working more on prevention at the level of local communities. A further cause of inefficiency lies in the rejection of deeper integration from all the participating states and in their different perspectives on whether Boko Haram is a Nigerian problem or a regional one indeed. Each of the States fighting Boko Haram seems to have a common enemy but different goals to achieve while fighting it, since in Nigeria the terrorist group is an actor operating within its national borders, while in Cameroon and Niger it is perceived more as a cross-border issue and Chad is mainly interested in combating it to protect its commercial route with Cameroon. Accordingly, the military objectives vary from one country to another -from containment operations in an external territory to counter-insurgency operations within the states’ borders. Moreover, the attention given by the Lake Chad States to the Boko Haram threat has been unstable over time due to the fact that the organization does not represent the unique problem they have to face. Furthermore, operational constraints, such as, among other factors, fluctuating number of troops, reluctance towards intelligence sharing, consistently undermined the effectiveness of MNJTF operations.

In conclusion, it is impossible to imagine any improvement in efficiency of the MNJTF without a renovation of commitment from the countries forming the multinational coalition and without an effective intelligence sharing. Secondly, it is necessary to ensure that security forces will no longer commit human rights violations towards locals allegedly members of Boko Haram. As recommended in the International Crisis Group’s report, a better coordination between military and civilian missions would be needed together with an ironing out of the divergences among the Chad Lake states, the European Union and the African Union concerning funding and procurements. 

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Author: Giulia Azzarone

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