Recent Hearing: “The Continuing Threat of Boko Haram.”

Last week, on November 13th, the United States designated Boko Haram, the Nigerian-based Islamist terrorist group, as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO).  On the same day, prior to the announcement, the U.S. House of Representative’s Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, together with the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade Joint Subcommittee, held a hearing on “The Continuing Threat of Boko Haram.” Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs testified (PDF) at the hearing. 

The hearing focused on the threat Boko Haram poses, the religious nature of their violence, and the Nigerian government’s response. Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield also spoke about U.S. assistance to the Nigerian government. Below are a few quotes from the hearing related to the United States’ security policy toward Nigeria.

Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ), Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations (PDF):

On the conduct of the Nigerian military:

  • Our government has provided training and other assistance to the Nigerian government to battle this terrorist threat. Unfortunately, the past brutality demonstrated by the Nigerian security forces, as well as the inability of Nigerian security forces to collaborate with one another, have prevented this effort from being as successful as it should be. In far too many cases, the Nigerian government itself has actually turned local people in the North against its effort to end the terrorist threat. By its ineffectiveness, the Nigerian security forces have pushed Nigerian Christians and Muslims to form their own militias to protect themselves from terrorists and each other. In the long run, this development makes eventual reconciliation of Nigeria’s various religious and ethnic communities more difficult. 

Ranking member Karen Bass (D-CA), Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations:

  • Nigeria is a critical partner for the United States.
  • Boko Haram poses an important and critical security challenge for Nigeria, for the region, and the continent as a whole. 

Chairman Ted Poe (R – TX), Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade Joint Subcommittee:

  • The Nigerian military’s heavy-handed response simply adds fuel to the fire of Boko Haram’s recruitment. Everyone agrees that corruption does hamper the military’s effort.

Ranking Member Brad Sherman, (D – CA)Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade Joint Subcommittee:

  • I fear that the [military] pivot towards Asia means that the fight against Islamic extremism in the Middle East and North Africa is either over or inconvenient and redirecting all of our national security effort towards confronting China in the South China Sea. . . .  Islamic extremism in North Africa, West Asia, and all of Africa and the Middle East cannot be ignored.
  • It is time for us to pivot towards Africa, the Middle East and West and South Asia where Islamic extremism still poses a threat to the United States not withstanding the death of Bin Laden.

Testimony, Linda Thomas-Greenfield Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, U.S. Department of State(PDF):

On U.S. policy/ security assistance:

  • Chairman Smith and Chairman Poe, instability in Nigeria is of direct concern to the United States. 
  • Through the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, we build military, law enforcement, and civilian capacity and resilience across the Sahel and Maghreb regions to counter terrorism. We continue to train and equip Nigerian law enforcement units to strengthen leadership, improve crisis management, enhance investigations and forensics, and counter improvised explosive devices. The State Department also funds a Legal Adviser to help the Nigerian government strengthen its anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing regime.
  • Military and law enforcement efforts are necessary, but they alone are insufficient to counter the threat posed by Boko Haram and associated violent extremist groups. In the long run, reducing Boko Haram’s ability to recruit is just as important as degrading its capabilities. In addition to the imperatives of improving governance and fostering equitable development, Nigeria must protect civilians, guarantee human rights, and ensure accountability in instances where government officials and security forces violate those rights. Nigeria must demonstrate that government can be the sole, trusted arbiter of justice in the country
  • The United States is committed to helping Nigeria shift to a strategy that focuses on protecting citizens. Such a strategy would diminish Boko Haram’s appeal and legitimacy. We support civil society-led efforts in Nigeria that counter Boko Haram’s narrative and its violent extremist message. We also seek to increase outreach with youth leaders in northern Nigeria, and to promote better relations between these leaders and Nigerian government officials. We maintain an American corner in Kano, Nigeria, although its outreach activities have been limited by the security situation. 

On the conduct of the Nigerian military:

  • We are concerned by reports that some Nigerian security forces have committed gross human rights violations in response to Boko Haram. We have raised this concern with the Government of Nigeria at the highest levels.

 

Notable questions: 

Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ):

On Leahy Law application

  • The Leahy Amendment . . . is about vetting and human rights criteria, could you speak to whether or not there needs to be revisiting of its application which can become counterproductive. Whole groups can be disqualified simply because of a concern that they may not comport with the Leahy Amendment . . . .  Don’t ever enable human rights abuses, but when [the Leahy vetting process] gets in the way of good solid training so that groups can be more efficacious on the battle field and be pro-human rights . . . that seems to [counter] both Nigerian and our best interest.

Response – Linda Thomas-Greenfield:

  • The Nigerian government has been heavy handed in their response [to Boko Haram] in the hope that it will end quickly. It has not come to an end quickly and some of the Nigerian military forces in their heavy-handed use of force have committed some human rights violations that we have raised with the government and because of that some troops have not been allowed to get training provided by the U.S. under Leahy [restrictions]. We are hopeful, through our continuing to work with the government, that we can help them address some of their approach so that violations are not continued. We are encouraging them to allow international organizations, local NGOs to go into some of the detention centers.

 

Chairman Ted Poe (R – TX):

U.S. assistance to Nigerian security forces:

  • Nigerian military, do they have the capability to defeat Boko Haram?

 Response – Linda Thomas-Greenfield:

  • I think they have the capability. I think they could use some support. It’s a challenging job and one we are prepared to help them with in terms of providing them with additional training, not just military, with other security forces, with providing them forensic support, investigation support and other types of support.

FTO designation:

  • The designation, how will it affect the influx of money to Boko Haram?

 Response – Linda Thomas-Greenfield:

  • It gives us tools to track the money . . . Most of the money comes from illegal means . . . and criminal activity.

On the Leahy Law:

  • It is my understanding that the Leahy Law prevents us from training the military in the North? [Does that apply to] specific units or all of the military in the North?

Response – Linda Thomas-Greenfield:

  • All of those units that have been connected to human rights abuses in the North have been barred from training due to Leahy. I don’t know if this would be the case for all of the units in the North. I will get back to you on that. 
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