Boko Haram is still holding territory in Northern Nigeria, commander of the US Africa Command (USAFRICOM), General David Rodriguez, has said.
General Rodriguez’s claim challenges Nigeria’s official position on the seven-year old insurgency that has so far claimed about 20,000 lives and displaced 2.5 million people.
Rodriguez’s assertion comes almost two months after President Muhammadu Buhari told the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki Moon, that the terrorist group was no longer “holding any territory as we speak.”
Buhari, who was speaking on the sidelines of the World Future Energy Summit in the UAE, said Nigerian Armed Forces in collaboration with the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNTJF) had driven the terrorist group from Nigerian territory into “fall-back positions.”
According to an online news portal, Premium Times, Rodriguez spoke on Tuesday in response to a question during testimony before the US Senate Armed Services Committee reviewing fiscal year 2017 defence budget.
His comment about Boko Haram was in response to a question by Senator Angus King of Maine who asked about Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram more than 90 minutes into the testimony.
Angus’ direct question to General Rodriguez was: “Is Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram growing, are they adding members? I know they don’t hold territory, are they adding areas of influence?” to which Rodriguez replied, “actually sir, Boko Haram does hold some significant territory in Northern Nigeria as do Al-Shabaab in limited areas of Somalia.”
He added that recently there is a “tactical upswing” in Al-Shabaab’s operations in Somali but did not elaborate on Boko Haram’s operations, adding in his written testimony to the Senate Committee that containing and degrading the ISIL-affiliated Boko Haram remains one of AFRICOM’s top priority.
“We are watching carefully for signs that the threat posed by Boko Haram to US persons is growing as a result of the group’s alignment with ISIL,” Rodriguez said.
He praised MNJTF allies and partners such as the African Union, France, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and the Department of State for engaging in the counter-Boko Haram effort.
“Our engagement now can assist our African partners in realizing their potential and gaining the capability to solve African problems,” Rodriguez said. “African solutions to African problems are, in the long run, in the best interest of Africans, Americans, and indeed the world.”
Rodriguez, a four-star general, became the third commander of AFRICOM in April 2013. US Africa Command is one of six unified geographic combatant commands within the United States Department of Defence unified command structure.
He appeared before the Senate committee with Generals Lloyd Austin of US Central Command and Joseph Votel of US Special Operations Command.
General Rodriguez’s testimony came couple weeks after the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade at the US Congress also convened hearings where two policy experts urged the US government to ramp up the push against Boko Haram.
Jennifer Cooke of the Centre for International and Strategic Studies (CSIS) and Alice Friend of the Centre for New American Security (CNAS), urged lawmakers to acknowledge and support real advances against Boko Haram that have degraded the group and weakened its leadership over the last 18 months.