Determined to review the US government’s handling of terrorist activities in Nigeria, the US Congress has directed the State Department to submit to both the Senate and the House of Representatives, within 90 days, a report “describing the strategy of the United States to counter the threat posed by Boko Haram.”
A second report — an intelligence assessment — has also been ordered by the US Congress on “the organisational structure, operational goals, and funding sources of Boko Haram,” a specific request made by a US-based Nigerian group of Christians — the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans (CANAN).
However, both houses of the US Congress have also added a Defence Department responsibility to the issue, which, up till now, was only the statutory purview of the State Department.
According to the Bill, which President Obama signed into law on January 2, both the US Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense are to jointly submit the report, which the law says would be confidential.
Observers of US government see the move by the Congress and President as a confidence-building measure and a consensus, amidst criticism of the State Department’s refusal to designate Boko Haram a terrorist organisation, as recommended by other US government agencies like the Justice Department and the FBI.
While the new bill, now enacted into law, does not mandate the labelling of Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO), as demanded by the CANAN, and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), US Congressional officials say it is a step in the right direction since the bill to designate sect an FTO will be reintroduced again in the new US Congress session that started on Thursday.
Two US Congressmen — Peter King (New York) and Patrick Meehan (Pennsylvania), who are playing active roles in the push for the US government to get tougher on Boko Haram, last week assured CANAN officials that the call to designate the sect an FTO would be re-tabled in the current Congress.
The law was one of the last-minute outcomes of last year’s US Congressional session that ended with the Fiscal Cliff agreement.
Apart from the report, the US Congress has ordered both the Secretary of State and Defence Secretary to submit the new law on Boko Haram within 90 days. It also directed the US Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to submit, within 180 days from the enactment of the bill on Wednesday, “a classified intelligence assessment of the Nigerian organisation known as Boko Haram.”
Specifically, the Boko Haram review is contained in H.R. 4310, the “National Defence Authorisation Act for Fiscal Year 2013,” and it is detailed out in Section 1070 of that law.
According to sub-section a of the law, the US DNI’s report, must be submitted to Congress as a “classified intelligence assessment of the Nigerian organisation known as Boko Haram.
The section added that, “such assessment shall address the following:
(1) The organisational structure, operational goals, and funding sources of Boko Haram.
(2) The extent to which Boko Haram threatens the stability of Nigeria and surrounding countries.
(3) The extent to which Boko Haram threatens the security of citizens of the United States or the national security or interests of the United States.
(4) Any interaction between Boko Haram and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or other al-Qaeda affiliates with respect to operational planning and execution, training, and funding.
(5) The capacity of Nigerian security forces to counter the threat posed by Boko Haram and an assessment of the effectiveness of the strategy of the Nigerian government to date.
(6) Any intelligence gaps with respect to the leadership, operational goals, and capabilities of Boko Haram.
Sub-section (b) of the law asked the US Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defence to issue a “joint report, not later than 90 days after the date on which the report required by subsection.”
The Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defence would submit the report to Congress “a classified report describing the strategy of the United States to counter the threat posed by Boko Haram.”
In his comments, Nigerian Ambassador to the US, Prof. Ade Adefuye, expressed satisfaction that the law did not mandate the designation of Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organisation, which, in his opinion, may not augur well for the country and Nigerians.
Indeed, the Nigerian Ambassador is said to have played an active role in ensuring that the earlier portions of the bill, which included sections demanding the designation of Boko Haram, were removed, while supporting other measures to confront the sect’s violence.
The Ambassador and CANAN officials had met in his office in Washington DC, agreeing on the objective of fighting Boko Haram, but disagreeing on the issue of designation.
But Mr. Michael Spierto, a top official of US Congressman, Meehan, a Republican from Pennsylvania, who proposed the House version of the bill, said “Congressman Meehan is optimistic that the House will address Boko Haram in the next Congress, and remains committed to spreading the word, addressing the threat, and working with his colleagues and the Administration to ensure that Boko Haram are held accountable for their heinous crimes against Christians and all Nigerians.”
Also, top aides of Congressman Peter King, who is the Chairman of the US House Committee on Homeland Security, noted that the US Congress would continue to press for the designation of Boko Haram in the new Congress.
According to Alvin Carroll, the Committee’s expert on Counter terrorism, the new law on Boko Haram is a step in the right direction, adding that, “we are not yet done on the issue of FTO designation.”
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