On Friday, January 15, militants from the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) attacked the town of Marte in the Lake Chad region of Borno State in northeastern Nigeria. The militants were able to overrun the Nigerian base on-site. The attack forced thousands of residents out of their homes and off their lands.
The town, 80 miles from the regional capital Maiduguri, was once considered the breadbasket of the Lake Chad region.
“The priority now is to reclaim the base from the terrorists and an operation is underway,” said a military official who spoke with AFP news on Saturday.
The Nigerian army released a statement saying that troops “tactically withdrew” to defend against an attack outside Marte. It added that troops “effectively destroyed” seven gun trucks and “decimated” an unconfirmed number of attackers.
ISIS acknowledged responsibility for the attack in a statement on its own Amaq news service. It claimed to have killed seven and captured one person during the assault on the Nigerian base and that its fighters had seized weapons, ammunition, and six vehicles, as well as burned down the army barracks.
As of Saturday night, the Nigerian base at Marte was still under the control of ISIS.
Just a week ago, ISIS had attacked Marte but was repulsed. It regrouped and returned to assault the town with added reinforcements.
The second attack was seen as payback for last week’s failed assault and for the Nigerian army troops recently overrunning ISWAP’s second-largest camp in Talala village.
Since being founded in 2002, ISWAP, formerly known as Boko Haram, expressed purpose has been to “purify Nigeria.” On March 7, 2015, Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, rebranding the terrorist organization Islamic State in West Africa (ISWAP). A year later, he stated that, “[the group’s] mission is to establish an Islamic caliphate in Nigeria.”
After being pushed out of nearly all of its territory in 2015, ISWAP took advantage of the poverty caused by climate change and has been making a comeback in the rural areas. It is now in control of four of the 10 zones in Borno State.
ISWAP maintains camps on islands in Lake Chad, a dangerous region where Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad meet. The area around Lake Chad is known to be the group’s stronghold.
ISWAP has focused on attacking state security forces and bases and the civilians that support them, whereas as Boko Haram most of the terrorist organization’s attacks were against civilians.
Since the current insurgency erupted in 2009, the terrorists have killed 39,000 people and displaced 2.3 million. The Nigerian military has moved populations from rural to fortified areas around military bases in order to protect them. Yet, this has allowed the Islamic insurgents to regain control of many of the rural regions that they had lost.
The violence has spread into neighboring Niger, Chad, and Cameroon resulting in the formation of a regional military coalition to counter the terrorist group.
Nevertheless, the Nigerian government has focused too much on the military side of the equation and not enough on exerting political oversight to curb its military’s heavy-handedness.