A senior U.S. general has said that Nigerian militants Boko Haram have fractured internally, with a big group splitting away from shadowy leader Abubakar Shekau over his failure to adhere to guidance from the Iraq- and Syria-based ISIS.
Marine Lieutenant General Thomas Waldhauser, the nominee to lead the U.S. military’s Africa Command, suggested the internal division was illustrative of limits of ISIS’ influence over Boko Haram so far, despite the West African group’s pledge of allegiance to it last year.
“Several months ago, about half of Boko Haram broke off to a separate group because they were not happy with the amount of buy-in, if you will, from Boko Haram” into the ISIS brand, Waldhauser said at his nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
Shekau, he said, had not fallen into line with ISIS’ instructions, including by ignoring calls for Boko Haram to stop using children as suicide bombers.
He’s been told by ISIS “to stop doing that. But he has not done so. And that’s one of the reasons why this splinter group has broken off,” he said, adding ISIS was trying to “reconcile those two groups.”
Reuters reported on June 9 that U.S. officials had seen no evidence that Boko Haram has so far received significant operational support or financing from ISIS. The assessment suggested Boko Haram’s loyalty pledge had so far mostly been a branding exercise.
Waldhauser acknowledged differing opinions about how much influence ISIS has actually had so far over Boko Haram, which won global infamy for its 2014 kidnapping of 276 school girls.
“They certainly have not given them a lot of financial assistance. So the point being is that perhaps improvement in tradecraft, in training and the like,” he said.
Meanwhile, a multinational force has begun operations against Boko Haram along the border between Niger and Nigeria, a general from Niger said on Tuesday.
Brigadier-General Abdou Sidikou Issa, tactical chief of staff for troops based in Niger’s southern zone of Diffa, a region plagued by ISIS, said troops from Chad and Nigeria were involved in the operation. It began in secret almost a week ago.
“The operations have as their objective (to end) the occupation of all the zones currently occupied by Boko Haram,” Issa said. “Our role is to firmly secure the border.”