Counter-Boko Haram Offensives in Chad, Niger, and Nigeria under the Specter of Coronavirus: Public Relations or Permanent Destruction?

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 18 Issue: 9


At the end of March, Chadian president Idriss Déby announced the launch of a “merciless” offensive against ‘Boko Haram,’ albeit without clarifying whether Chad would target the larger faction, Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), or the smaller faction, Jamaat Ahlussunnah lid-Dawa wal-Jihad (JAS) (Premium Times, April 1). Déby, who came to power in Chad through a military coup 30 years ago, was keen to show his military bona fides. He, for example, frequently appeared in photoshoots directing commanders on the frontlines, while his son also recently returned from his UAE ambassadorial post to “fight terrorists”  (Alwihda, April 4; Thebreakingtimes, April 11). According to Chadian authorities, its forces killed precisely 1,000 ‘Boko Haram’ members while 52 Chadian soldiers were killed in roughly two weeks of fighting (, April 9).

Chad’s casualty claims suggest the offensive mostly targeted ISWAP because Chad’s claims roughly match numbers released by ISWAP. ISWAP, for example, claimed to have killed 70 Chadian soldiers, which is not too dissimilar from the number of soldiers Chad acknowledged were killed (, April 6). However, ISWAP also asserted in Islamic State’s al-Naba magazine that some Chadian soldiers were killed in “friendly fire” airstrikes (Al-Naba #229, April 10). Moreover, Chad, if anything, had incentive to underreport its own soldiers’ deaths to make its offensive appear more successful.

Chad’s claims of killing 1,000 ‘Boko Haram’ members were also seemingly exaggerated because an examination of Chad’s extensive documentation of the offensive only revealed several dozen slain jihadists, including several truckloads of seized armaments (, April 5). Chad would likely have published more photos of slain jihadists if forces had actually killed anywhere near the 1,000 it claimed to have slain.

Targeting the Other Enemy

Despite Chad’s battles with ISWAP, it was actually JAS’s March 24 attack in Bohoma, near Lake Chad, that killed 92 Chadian soldiers and prompted the Déby-led offensive codenamed “Bohoma Anger” (, March 24). Although ISWAP may have borne the brunt of Chadian retaliation for the attack that ISWAP itself did not launch, an April 1 JAS audio featured Shekau calling on fighters “to endure” in their battles against Chad. [1] This indicated the Chadian offensive targeted not only ISWAP, but also JAS hideouts and cells around Lake Chad.

Typical of Shekau, he also chastised Chad for “fighting for jahl (ignorance)” while JAS fought for the “enthronement of Islam,” and he also called on Chadians to rebel against Déby (, April 7). Moreover, despite Nigeria’s frequent claims about Shekau’s imminent death or surrender, including after the Chadian offensive, Shekau’s April 15 audio message titled “Message to the Coronavirus Plague” argued that only “faith in Allah” can cure “calamities (This Day, April 21).” [2] This offers no indication that Shekau was under heavy pressure, let alone ready to abandon jihad.

Although the Chadian offensive was intended to deal a knock-out blow to ‘Boko Haram,’ Déby’s cessation of the offensive on April 10 assured Chad’s desired result would not be achieved (Africa News, April 11). While some ISWAP and JAS hideouts were uncovered and JAS may be deterred from committing another massacre of Chadian soldiers, the offensive did not prevent ISWAP from launching attacks against Chad. ISWAP, for example, claimed to have killed four Chadian soldiers and captured a fifth soldier after attacking two Chadian naval boats near Ngouboua, Chad on April 19 (, April 19). The group subsequently released an April 25 video through Islamic State’s Amaq agency of an ISWAP commander speaking Chadian Arabic before executing the captured soldier. [3]

Ngouboua itself has been a flashpoint for JAS attacks and represents one of several areas around Lake Chad and southern Borno State where the two rival groups—ISWAP and JAS—overlap. In December 2019, for example, JAS unsuccessfully attacked a Chadian military outpost near Ngouboua (ActuDaily, April 6). Moreover, several weeks before that operation, JAS abducted a Chadian doctor, nurse, and driver in Ngouboua, who were later seen in a February 2020 proof-of-life video. [4] The driver’s family reported that JAS informed the family that the driver was executed on April 5 in retaliation for Chad’s Bohoma Anger operation (ActuDaily, April 6).

JAS’ Lake Chad-based faction, led by the notorious Bakura, had also claimed loyalty to Shekau and at least three military barracks raids around Lake Chad in 2019, including in Dangdalla, Chad, Blabrine, Niger, and Darak, Cameroon. [5] This indicates it was Bakura who amplified JAS’ capabilities around Lake Chad from 2019 onward and conducted the Bohoma attack because JAS had otherwise been dormant there from Shekau’s ouster from ISWAP leadership in August 2016 until 2019 (, March 27). Bakura, who was originally based in Lake Chad, had engaged ISWAP for a period after August 2016. But upon finding ISWAP to be too moderate compared to JAS, he decided to retained loyalty to Shekau.

Bakura was reported killed in a joint Nigeria-Niger raid along their mutual border several days before JAS’ March 24 Bohoma raid (Lemonde, March 20). Rumors were subsequently confirmed that the United States participated in that raid. However, “the mission ultimately failed to capture or kill the militant leader,” presumably Bakura (New York Times, April 18). U.S. forces also remained distant from the actual operation to avoid risking losing American lives, which reflects a more cautious approach than in 2017, when Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS) forces killed four U.S. soldiers in northwestern Niger. At that time, ISGS was part of IS, but not a formal “province,” and was referred to by IS as its “soldiers in Niger.” However, since March 2019, ISGS has formally become part of ISWAP.

Nigeria’s Own Offensive

While Bohoma Anger was the focus of media attention in March and April, Nigeria had its own reasons to be concerned about ISWAP and JAS. On the same day as JAS’ Bohoma attack in Chad, ISWAP launched an assault on Goniri along the Yobe-Borno border, killing around 70 soldiers (The Cable, March 24). ISWAP also released a video of the operation through Amaq, showing several captured Nigerian soldiers and large explosions caused by ISWAP destroying a Nigerian multiple rocket launcher. [6]

Nigeria responded to the Goniri attack by launching its own offensive south of Goniri in Ngamdu, near Alagarno, Borno, which is an ISWAP base the group has used to coordinate attacks into Chibok, Borno and as far as northern Adamawa State (, April 17; Punch, February 22). If ISWAP is ever able to capture or kill its nemesis, Shekau, whose main bases are around Sambisa Forest, Borno and along the Borno-Cameroon borderlands, it would likely also be from ISWAP’s Alagarno base. ISWAP has increased its anti-Shekau rhetoric to a level never seen before, including directly condemning him in a February 2020 video for the first time and again one month later in March in its Hausa language at-Tibyan magazine (at-Tibyan, March 2020). [7]

Seemingly emulating Déby, Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, also engaged in a highly publicized visit to the frontlines to observe the Nigerian army kill specifically “105” ISWAP members (Premium Times, April 19). This was despite the fact that “initial situation reports” indicated a much fewer 10 “terrorists” were killed and photos of the battle scene revealed less than 10 slain ISWAP members and an amount of recovered weaponry consistent with use by around several dozen ISWAP members (Premium Times, April 19). The Nigerian army has subsequently repelled several ISWAP attacks in Yobe and Borno. However, ISWAP’s attack tempo has been largely unaffected by the Chadian and Nigerian offensives, and it was able to launch an April 25 ambush on a security escort for former Borno governor Ali Modu Sheriff’s father’s funeral, killing several policemen (Sahara Reporters, April 25).


The March-April offensives have not substantially affected ISWAP or JAS operations. If anything, Chad’s failure to extend its offensive for more than two weeks raises questions about the sub-regional determination to defeat the jihadists. Moreover, the suspicious self-induced “suicide by poisoning” of 44 captured “Boko Haram” members in Chadian custody in April raises questions about Chad’s trustworthiness, if not also its commitment to the rule of law (Alwihda, April 22).

Meanwhile, Shekau’s “faith in Allah” may not save him from the coronavirus in a scientific sense. However, the coronavirus is taking a toll on Nigerian leaders, including President Muhammadu Buhari’s top aide, who succumbed to the virus in April; on medical workers, one of whom worked for Médecins Sans Frontières and succumbed to the virus in Borno in April; and on Nigerian and neighboring countries’ resources (, April 18; HumAngle, April 20). This means any all-out escalation against JAS or ISWAP is unlikely in the near future.



[1] For the April 1, 2020 JAS video of Shekau, see the author’s book’s companion website at:

[2] For the April 15, 2020 JAS video of Shekau, see the author’s book’s companion website at:

[3] For the graphic April 25, 2020 video, see the author’s book’s companion website at:

[4] For the February 2020 JAS proof-of-life video, see the author’s book’s companion website at:

[5] For the two September 2019 and November 2019 videos from JAS’ Bakura faction making such claims, see the author’s book’s companion website at: and

[6] For the graphic April 5, 2020 Amaq video of ISWAP’s Goniri attack, see the author’s book’s companion website at:

[7] For the February 2020 ISWAP video, see the author’s book’s companion website at: