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As a result, the Obama administration has appeared willing to quietly back efforts by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to create an amnesty program in which Boko Haram members might avoid prosecution in exchange for laying down their weapons.

A similar approach in recent years succeeded in taming militant activity in Nigeria’s Christian south. But the effort has not yielded significant results in the predominantly Muslim north.

It also is complicated by claims that the Jonathan government’s security forces are running rampant in northern Nigeria.

A Human Rights Watch report in October cited the implication of the security forces in such “serious human rights violations” as execution-style killings of detainees.

Such claims were punctuated by the high number of casualties after a two-day battle between the security forces and members of Boko Haram in the fishing town of Baga on April 19 and 20. Some reports suggested that the death toll soared to nearly 200 after security forces began burning down homes and killing civilians in response to a smaller attack by Boko Haram.

The incident appeared to cause irritation at the State Department, where Secretary of State John F. Kerry engaged in pre-scheduled talks last week with Nigerian Foreign Minister Olugbenga Ayodeji Ashiru.

Before the meeting, a State Department official told The Times that “heavy-handed tactics by security forces reinforce a perception that the government is unjust and abusive, which extremists have capitalized upon.”

“We recommend the Nigerian government employ a comprehensive security strategy that is not predicated on a force-based approach, [but] also addresses the economic and political exclusion of vulnerable communities in the north,” the official said.

With regard to specific activities of Boko Haram, however, neither Mr. Kerry nor Mr. Ashiru made mention of the group by name during public remarks Thursday.

The rhetorical sidestep may be explained by their desire to avoid lending legitimacy to the group, but also might stem from a general agreement that Boko Haram’s activities — violent as they may be — are unlikely to disrupt Nigeria’s oil operations.

The nation is one of the top foreign oil providers to the U.S. and a growing provider of oil and liquid natural gas to key U.S. allies, most notably Japan. The oil operations are centered along Nigeria’s southern coastline, far from Boko Haram’s base in the north.