Some 8,000 Nigerian troops are engaged in the largest military operation since the 1967–70 civil war, seeking to defeat an Islamist insurgency by the Boko Haram militant group. President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the northeastern states of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa in May 2013 after the government lost control of large parts of the region. An additional 3,000 troops were deployed to join a 5,000-strong Joint Task Force (JTF) which was already engaged in the operation.
Loss of control
The year leading up to Jonathan's declaration had seen attacks across northern and central Nigeria against targets including the police, the military, government officials, banks, schools, mobile-phone masts and markets. Boko Haram's preferred tactics included the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), as well as suicide attacks and shootings.
Established as an isolated community based on Salafist principles in Yobe state in 2002, Boko Haram's first years were characterised by low levels of activity. Skirmishes with security forces and the destruction of its base forced the group underground until 2009, when 800 members, including the group's leader, Mohammed Yusuf, were killed during a four-day battle. When Boko Haram, now led by Abubakar Shekau, re-emerged a year later its identity had changed and it embarked on the insurgency campaign for which it is now known.
While remaining an inward-looking movement determined to spread sharia law across Nigeria, Boko Haram strengthened its links with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, from which it received weapons, funding and training (it may also have links to al-Shabaab in Somalia). This was reflected in the heightened sophistication of Boko Haram's tactics: it quickly moved from using machetes to small arms, IEDs, RPGs, truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns, as well as carrying out drive-by shootings and Nigeria's first-ever suicide attacks.
As part of official efforts to counter Boko Haram's insurgency in northern and central Nigeria, the country's security forces are engaged in a joint operation, codenamed Restore Order. It is led by the army and comprises elements of the armed forces, security services, military intelligence, police, customs and immigration. But the security forces have a poor track record – including allegations of extrajudicial killings, summary executions and torture – which likely serves as a further source of inspiration for Boko Haram's attacks.