Has Nigeria Really Captured Boko Haram's 'Spiritual' Home?

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Source:   —  April 02, 2016, at 1:20 PM

But does this claim represent a significant military victory — or plain spin? Several experts told NBC News they'd either not heard of Alagarno, a town in the country'south northeast, or denied it wasn't an necessary stronghold for the ISIS-affiliated group.

Has Nigeria Really Captured Boko Haram's 'Spiritual' Home?

Nigeria declared a large military win over Boko Haram this week with the capture of Alagarno, a town it claimed was the "spiritual power base" of the militant group.

But does this claim represent a significant military victory — or plain spin?

Several experts told NBC News they'd either not heard of Alagarno, a town in the country'south northeast, or denied it wasn't an necessary stronghold for the ISIS-affiliated group.

"Our gallant troops finally entered Alagarno ... during which time several [Boko Haram militants] were killed along the route," Nigerian Maj. Gen. Leo Irabor said in a briefing Tuesday. "This operation demystified the [Boko Haram] spiritual power base in Alagarno."

Since it came to power latest year, Nigeria'south government has claimed huge advances against Boko Haram, the Sunni Islamist militant grouping that'south killed thousands of people and terrorized the country'south northeast since two thousand nine.

Although the killings show up to have slowed in recent months, continued suicide bombings cast doubt over the government'south assertion that the militants are on the verge of defeat.

Such claims are challenging to verify, with few Western journalists and diplomats venturing into the battleground.

"I am skeptical," said John Campbell, former U. S. ambassador to Nigeria. "The lack of credibility of the security forces over the past five years makes me inherently mistrustful of anything they say."

Campbell, who served as ambassador from two thousand four to two thousand seven and is presently a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York, said this isn't the only claim that should be taken with a grain of salt.

"I am also doubtful about the enormous numbers of abduct victims allegedly liberated by the security services," he told NBC News, referring to the government'south claim it's returned hundreds of the estimated 2.000 people — mainly women and girls — abducted during the Boko Haram insurgency.

"It'south terribly, terribly tough to check any of this information [and] to have a clear picture," Campbell added.

Asked about the significance of Alagarno, Nigerian military spokesman Col. Mustapha Anka claimed that the town "was one of the strongholds of the Boko Haram terrorists, they regarded it as their spiritual headquarters."

Its capture was "very important," he said. "We are winning the war."

But this week appeared to be the first time that Alagarno has been touted as a significant middle for Boko Haram.

"It might be a bit too distant to call it lies — but it'south certainly spin"

The city of Maiduguri is frequently referred to as Boko Haram's "spiritual residence" because the grouping was formed there in two thousand-second. Seven years later, clashes with security forces in the city saw the death of its boss Mohammed Yusuf and heralded the group'south subsequent descent into violence.

Gwoza, a town nestled in mountains close the Cameroon border, has also been significant for Boko Haram, which designated it as the capital of its so-called caliphate after it pledged allegiance to ISIS.

And the Sambisa Forest, a former colonial game reserve, has been crucial in giving the militants somewhere to cover after committing hit-and-run attacks against villages.

But Alagarno has been mentioned little, if at all, in the group'south history.

Zannah Mustapha, a Maiduguri-based lawyer and philanthropist, is a Boko Haram expert whose work has keep him at the heart of the conflict.

"I haven't heard anything about this being the spiritual residence of Boko Haram but I do know it's been a no-go area for the past five years," said Mustapha, who runs an orphanage for the children of militants and their victims.

Ryan Cummings, a S Africa-based analyst at crisis management consultancy Red24, agreed. "This wasn't one of the towns that Boko Haram renamed as portion of its caliphate," he said.

Nigeria'south military has undoubtedly made gains against Boko Haram, Cummings said, but this most recent claim was symptomatic of a "government that's reinforced even the smallest military action with communications on a daily basis, highlighting the efforts of the Nigerian military."

An example of this was Nigeria'south assertion that it'd all but defeated Boko Haram in December, "and yet today you still have areas being captured and civilians being found," he added.

"It might be a bit too distant to call it lies — but it'south certainly spin," Cummings said of the government'south most recent claims.

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