Defying Military Efforts, Boko Haram is Expanding in West Africa: U.N. Official

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People look at pictures of wanted Boko Haram suspects on a notice posted by the Nigerian military, in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria November 13, 2015. Stringer/Reuters

Boko Haram is growing and threatening to spread further eastwards from Nigeria as far as the Central African Republic (CAR), despite heightened efforts by the Nigerian military and a regional task force, the top United Nations (U.N.) aid official in Cameroon told Reuters.

The Nigerian-founded organization—recently ranked as the world's deadliest militant group—has expanded operations in neighboring countries in recent months, including Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigerian president, has given his military a December deadline by which to vanquish the militant group from its base in northeastern Nigeria. And the U.S. recently committed to sending 300 troops to Cameroon to assist with regional operations against the group.

A Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), comprising troops from Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin, was formed in March, as countries in the West African region redoubled efforts to end Boko Haram's six-year insurgency.

However, Najat Rochdi, U.N. Resident Coordinator in Cameroon, said that the militant group continues to carry out almost daily suicide-bombing attacks in the region, such as the blast at a Shia procession in Nigeria's Kano state on Friday that killed scores of pilgrims. Rochdi added that Boko Haram has made significant inroads into Cameroon and raised concerns that it would continue expanding eastwards towards the conflict-ridden CAR.

"We used to have pockets of Boko Haram, it's definitely expanding," Rochdi told Reuters. "It looks like they are trying to break through inside [Cameroon] but also towards the borders in the east, the borders with Central African Republic."

Boko Haram—which pledged allegiance to the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in March—was responsible for 6,664 deaths in 2014, according to the Global Terrorism Index 2015 produced by the Institute of Economics and Peace at the University of Maryland. The group has launched a spate of attacks in northern Cameroon in recent months, and Rochdi warned that the insurgency could impact Cameroon's economy and radicalize disaffected young people, who could end up joining the militant group.

Rochdi said that the "window of opportunity" to tackle Boko Haram by investing in regional economies and education was "very small. Failure to do so, he warned, could trigger a refugee crisis in West Africa that would reach all the way to Europe.