A genuine threat

Over the weekend, the Islamic extremists seeking to establish a caliphate in Iraq, Syria and beyond, cruelly beheaded a Japanese journalist and thereby retained the dubious distinction of being the jihadist group most detested by the world’s more civilized citizens.

And the rage is entirely justified. This is the 21st century and there simply is no way to justify or defend such infuriatingly primitive behavior.

So the Islamic State insurgency gets the world’s attention, and that’s understandable.

But let’s not ignore Boko Haram. In August, the Nigerian extremists declared an Islamic caliphate and now hold about 130 towns and villages, according to Amnesty International.

Just last month, more than 2,000 people were killed as Boko Haram destroyed at least 16 towns and villages. Another million have been displaced since the insurgency began in 2010.

The civilized world was horrified when Boko Haram kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls, and since then hundreds more — men and boys as well asgirls — have been seized by the rebels.

And there appears to be no government — or army — capable of deterring these insurgents.

National elections are scheduled for Feb. 14 and 28. Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, and his ruling People’s Democratic Party will have a lot of explaining to do if they hope to be returned to power.

Writing in The Washington Post last week, Nnamdi Obasi, the Nigeria senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, cited three reasons why Nigeria has failed to protect its people and first, he wrote, is weak political leadership.

“Jonathan’s advisers claim he has long been restrained in fighting Boko Haram because he considers it a domestic crisis, needing subtle management,” he explained. “In reality, however, the president was often poorly informed, never grasped the gravity of the threat and failed to provide consistent and coherent policy guidance to drive an effective counterinsurgency.”

Weak security institutions are a second problem, he added, noting that the Nigerian military is not trained to fight an insurgency, especially one on the scale it faces in Boko Haram.

But, Obasi continued, “the affliction runs deeper. Corruption in procurement and administration, poor maintenance of acquired assets, human rights violations that alienate local support, low morale among troops demoralized by inadequate support and heavy casualties and sabotage by Boko Haram sympathizers have all undercut the military’s ability.”

Also, he wrote, “internal discontents have spiraled into mutinies” and that since last September 66 soldiers have been sentenced to death for mutiny and refusing orders to fight.

Although Nigeria had continued to insist on a force under the auspices of the Lake Chad Basin Commission, neighboring countries preferred to deploy a force authorized by the United Nations or the African Union.

And on Saturday, the 54-nation African Union moved ahead, agreeing to send 7,500 troops to fight Boko Haram. The decision has the approval of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, adding to its legitimacy.

Earlier last week, Chad sent one warplane and troops to drive the insurgents out of a town on its border with northeastern Nigeria and that was the first offensive by foreign troops against the group on Nigerian soil.

So there is hope that the entire region will finally do something to thwart Boko Haram, although it’s too soon to know if the effort will be effective.

But the conflict will continue to draw less attention from western capitals, including Washington, than the jihadists fighting in Iraq and Syria.

That may be understandable, and yet it is regrettable too. Boko Haram is a genuine threat to the values westerners hold dear.

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