- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2014

U.S. officials have told The Washington Times that by mid-2012, a debate was raging behind the scenes at the State Department about how to publicly define the Boko Haram threat and how what exactly Washington should be doing to respond to the mounting violence in Africa’s top oil-producing nation.

Several analysts and officials speaking anonymously with The Times said there was resistance at the time to adding Boko Haram to Washington’s official terrorist organizations lists out of concern that doing so would bolster the group’s stature on the world stage and — as a result — enhance its ability to grow and recruit new members.

Now, the terror outfit commands a global stage after kidnapping more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls.

But back in June 2012, the State Department moved to designate three Boko Haram leaders as “global terrorists” with “close links” to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghrab.

Despite the designations, and mounting claims by regional experts that Boko Haram was gaining increasing access through AQIM to such military hardware as rocket-propelled grenades from jihadist smuggling networks in Mali and Libya, the Obama administration continued to resist labeling the entire group as a global terrorist organization.

Alternatively, the administration appeared to be acquiescing to a strategy being pushed during 2012 by the 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 during the late-2000s had succeeded in taming militant activity in Nigeria’s Christian south. But the effort yielded no significant results in the nation’s predominantly Muslim north — and was complicated because the Jonathan government’s security forces were running rampant in Northern Nigeria.

A Human Rights Watch report in October 2013 cited the implication of the security forces in such “serious human rights violations” as execution-style killings of detainees.

That report, along with the rapidly devolving situation in Northern Nigeria, served as backdrop for the State Departments sudden move in November 2013 to officially designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization, ending what had been a heated debate over the group’s status.

What remains to be seen is whether the dispatching of U.S. and British officials to aid Nigerian authorities in attempting to rescue the 276 school girls recently kidnapped by Boko Haram will be followed by a deepening U.S. involvement in the situation.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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