While the world's gaze is riveted to the conclusion of the manhunt for the murderers in the attack on Charlie Hebdo, Amnesty International says Boko Haram committed its worst massacre to date this week. The terrorist group responsible for the abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok launched an attack over the weekend, capturing a Nigerian military base on the border with Chad, and attacked again on Wednesday, reportedly slaughtering hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians. From an Amnesty International press release Friday:
“The attack on Baga and surrounding towns, looks as if it could be Boko Haram’s deadliest act in a catalogue of increasingly heinous attacks carried out by the group. If reports that the town was largely razed to the ground and that hundreds or even as many as two thousand civilians were killed are true, this marks a disturbing and bloody escalation of Boko Haram’s ongoing onslaught against the civilian population,” said Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher for Amnesty International.
“We are currently working to find out more details of what happened during the attack on Baga and the surrounding area. This attack reiterates the urgent need for Boko Haram to stop the senseless killing of civilians and for the Nigerian government to take measures to protect a population who live in constant fear of such attacks,” said Daniel Eyre.
Local government officials told the Associated Press that "most victims are children, women and elderly people who could not run fast enough when insurgents drove into Baga."
On Monday, before the full toll of the attacks was known, ABC News' Jon Karl pressed White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest about Boko Haram's offensive, and whether U.S. efforts to assist the government of Nigeria have been effective:
Karl: Isn’t this an indication that that cooperation is not working at all? I mean, first of all, the girls haven’t been rescued. That’s on one side. The other side, Boko Haram seems to be on the march. I mean, they’ve actually overtaken a military base that was set up, in large part, to fight Boko Haram. I mean, doesn’t this show that whatever cooperation we have with the Nigerians just isn’t working?
Earnest: Well, it shows that there is -- that they face a very serious threat in Nigeria. And the United States, it does have this relationship with Nigeria that we value, it’s a military-to-military relationship. We also share some other intelligence assets that have been deployed to fight Boko Haram. But this is certainly something that we’re concerned about.
The United States has been partnered closely with France in trying to aid the Nigerians in their fight against Boko Haram, an effort complicated by the Nigerian government's own dicey human rights record. President Obama is on the road previewing his State of the Union agenda, but expect news of this massacre to dominate the early part of next week, and in light of the attacks in France, renew political focus on radical Islamic terrorism.
The president has been focused on a bold domestic agenda, but may end up having to divert some of the focus of his SOTU to address rising (if overblown) anxiety about terrorism. The deployment of troops we sent in to help search for the kidnapped girls has ended, so while Boko Haram was a convenient foil for President Obama's critics, as is often the case, there's no chance any of them would support a significant escalation of ground troops to the region. If the president is going to act on Boko Haram, it's likely he'll have to do it on his own and within the (expansive) limits of the War Powers Resolution.