‘Boko Haram’s allegiance to ISIS symbolic, propagandist move’
RT:The fear that these two violent extremist organizations will merge now seems to be taking place. What is going to change for the region and for the world?
Max Abrahms: Well, it really remains an open question. For one thing I'll be looking to see what the Islamic State’s response to this pledge of allegiance will be. In the past few months we had other groups that have pledged allegiance to IS in Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Afghanistan. And in each case has been pleased with this pledge of loyalty and has essentially reciprocated and said, ‘yes, it would be terrific if you fought under our banner’.
— RT (@RT_com) March 7, 2015
But we have to wait and see how the Islamic State responds. At this point the connection between the Islamic State and Boko Haram remains primarily a rhetorical [one], if you will. There is yet to be even a single case where there is an attack which involved operational coordination between the two organizations.
More and more where they have overlapped has been in the realm of propaganda for instance, with Boko Haram flashing the flag and saying all sort of nice things about the caliphate trying to ingratiate Boko Haram within the Islamic State. But there actually hasn't been any coordination in terms of the different types of attacks between the two groups. However that now seems more likely.
RT:If this allegiance is confirmed, do you think we will see coalition airstrikes be conducted in Nigeria too now? How’s the international community going to respond?
MA: Oh, it is a very good question. As an American, I know that Americans tend to look at the conflict in Nigeria primarily as a nationalist conflict, a civil war between Boko Haram and Goodluck Jonathan that increasingly has spread out to the borders, now include countries that are potential safe havens for Boko Haram. So there is some back and forth between this terrorist group and countries like Chad and Cameroon, etc. So the country seems to be spreading from a largely nationalist one to a regional one.
But now where there seems to be some measure of integration between the Islamic State and Boko Haram, I think the international community can really no longer ignore this festering conflict. The authorization of military force that Obama has been pushing I believe would allow for coalition strikes against Boko Haram if it indeed becomes the ISIS affiliate.
MA: Boko Haram, I could easily understand why they would want to make nice with [the] Islamic State, because as vicious as Boko Haram is, it is merely not as militarily capable in terms of however you want to measure it – propaganda output, the number of fighters, the quality of fighters, the quality of weapons being used.
And so it is not at all surprising that Boko Haram essentially would want to benefit from this superior organization in terms of its capabilities. And frankly I think the two groups will cohere pretty well because neither group has any objections, or any inhibitions in using brutal force, including dead civilians. So frankly, these two organizations, they deserve each other.
RT:What is this alliance going to look like in your view? Will it be a cooperation in manpower, arms, or ideas?
MA: I do think so. If you look at the trajectory of IS, it is still based primarily in Iraq and Syria. In Iraq I think the tide is going to turn for IS. I think that in direct battle against the Iraqi forces, supplemented with Shiite militia and the Kurds, that ISIS is going to be outgunned and outmanned. It may be very bloody, but ultimately this is the group that is going to lose Tikrit and it is also going to probably lose Mosul after that. And so increasingly the group is going to be weakened in its stronghold in the Levant, although in Syria it will continue to remain strong.
My point though is that because of this new-found weakness of Islamic State, the increasingly hard times that it is facing, I think the group is going to metastasize, decentralize more and more in order to exploit these power vacuums, where frankly the opposition to it is not nearly as strong, let’s say as in Tikrit.
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