The violent extremist group Boko Haram has terrorized thousands of people in African countries. Best known for the kidnapping of greater than 200 young schoolgirls in the spring of last year, the group has expanded from its headquarters in the northern section of Nigeria. One can see why holding a conference to discuss the terrorist group - and how to combat it - is something that scares many leaders in the region.
The Diffa region in southeastern Niger finally did hold a summit in order to discuss the threat posed by the terrorist group. Diffa’s prefect, Inoussa Saouna, told the group of 75 village leaders that, “One person could come here and kill us all!”
Despite the fears of the attendees, the meeting at Diffa was somewhat successful. The group felt protected by a small team of United States Special Operations Forces who were present to stand watch. The soldiers do not wear uniforms or go into combat. Rather, their goal is to partner with local groups who are willing to fight and stand up to Boko Haram.
This low-risk strategy has proved unsuccessful in the Middle East as the United States has been unable to find reliable allies in war-torn Syria. However, in Niger and other African countries, there are signs of success against Boko Haram.
Army Col. Bob Wilson, commander of United States Special Operations Forces in west and north Africa stated that, “For the region, this is going to be a struggle that’s going to be with them for a long time, not just in Niger, but elsewhere.”
The soldiers who are a part of this mission feel that they are welcomed by the citizens of Niger more than they ever felt welcome in Iraq and Afghanistan. One American sergeant stated that, “It’s a totally different approach to the problem set.” The team sergeant further stated that, “[The citizens and leaders of Niger] are fully supportive of getting Boko Haram out of here. It’s nice to be able to work with folks like that - that want the problem gone.”
At this time, it is unclear how long the Americans will remain in the region. Sergeant Fougo Saley, chief of civil-military affairs for the Diffa region, is very grateful for the backseat approach taken by the American soldiers. “I would even like the Americans to stay for 40 years . . . I don’t know what the American government and Niger government will decide.”