Boko Haram’s increasingly sophisticated military threat

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This paper evaluates Boko Haram’s military capabilities and details the process of how its standing army, driven by these capabilities, came to pose a phased threat between 2013 and 2015 in particular. This was a period when military fighting dominated the insurgency in north-east Nigeria. Whereas there is an abundance of literature on Boko Haram’s histories and the impact of its insurgency on north-east Nigeria, analysis of Boko Haram’s military campaigning is still deficient. Attempting to fill this gap, this paper uses field findings and battlefield case studies from north-east Nigeria to highlight how Boko Haram’s overt front – its standing army – came to supplant its guerrilla operations as the main security threat to the frontier area.

This pivot towards military fighting, for a group initially composed of a few ragtag combatants, on the surface might seem surprising. Yet, whereas Boko Haram may lack the popular support required for ‘people’s war’, classic insurgency theories nevertheless hold some explanatory power for this deliberate shift: away from guerrilla warfare as the expedient of the weaker side, and towards the use of a large standing army of locals to swarm, and sometimes successfully overrun, state forces.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)886-915
JournalSmall Wars and Insurgencies
Issue number5-6
Publication statusPublished - 7 Mar 2019


  • Insurgency
  • Counter-insurgency
  • Boko Haram
  • Military fighting
  • Guerrilla warfare
  • Infantry
  • Armour
  • Nigerian military


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