Right, sorry about the delays. Busy, busy bee.
But here we are and today I thought it'd be interesting to pick up a story that's doing the rounds in the news about the girls who have been kidnapped in Nigeria by Boko Haram.
I find this story interesting for two reasons. Firstly because it's taken the media this long to cotton on to the unstable situation in northern Nigeria, something that's been going on for years now (my fourth post on this blog back in 2012 mentioned them in passing). And secondly because this could be the first test of the fabled "Forward Engagement" strategy developed for the UK's armed forces and in particular the army's Adaptable Force concept.
Forward Engagement (henceforth in this article "FE") is at its heart the acknowledgement that one of the critical mistakes made in Afghanistan was made even before the September 11th attacks took place.
For years after the withdrawal of Russian forces from the country the international community largely lost interest in Afghanistan. The rise of the Taliban was not a sudden event and there was plenty of opportunities to cut it off at the pass before it took power. Throughout its reign over the country there were also a multitude of opportunities to combat it.
I've written in the past about Ahmad Shah Massoud (scroll about half way down that link) and the missed opportunity to fight the Taliban - and by extension Al Qaeda - for want of a bit of cash and some exported expertise. The FE strategy appears to be the contemporary response to this sort of problem.
Otherwise known as "capacity building", the FE strategy is designed to tackle global security problems at an early stage before they become more serious and as such would require a much larger (and more expensive) response. This is where the half of the British army known as the Adaptable Force (henceforth "AF") comes in.
The AF has among its many roles the remit to provide troops for training and supporting the security forces/military of foreign powers that are of interest to the UK. The idea works very simply; if you can train local friendly forces to handle problems on their own soil themselves, then you don't need to deploy large contingents of British troops and their equipment (at great expense) later on.
So far the UK, along with the US and others, has sent "experts" to Nigeria to help in the hunt for the missing girls. Quite who those experts are and whether they are military or civilian is not known. What will be interesting though is whether this incident - and the media coverage that has accompanied it - will prompt the British government to give the AF its first test.
Nigeria is one of the key economies in Africa. For all the talk about countries like South Africa as future players in the global game, Nigeria is closing in on it fast and is growing at almost three times the rate each year. Inward investment has been significant and will likely remain so into the future. The country is also one of the top international oil exporters to the USA.
But in order for that investment and economic growth to continue, security must be assured. Boko Haram has been steadily consolidating its control over areas of northern Nigeria and continues to press its activities further south with each passing month. As the number and severity of attacks against government forces and infrastructure continues to increase, so investors will become more jittery.
Ultimately at the minute Boko Haram doesn't have the capability to challenge the Nigerian government in a full scale battle for control of the nation. But with each year that ticks by the group grows larger, stronger and bolder. If left sufficiently unmolested to evolve into something bigger it could present a serious problem in the long run.
It need not even attempt to wrestle for control of the country to be a danger to the West. Just the mere act of providing a safe haven for the training of terrorists could pose a threat to the security of countries like Britain and the United States, especially as groups like Al Qaeda look for new homes in which to settle.
If Boko Haram were able to grow to a point where it could try to declare independence for northern Nigeria, much as the Tuareg's attempted in Mali, then there is not a huge amount the Nigerian government would be capable of doing to stop it alone. Even the existence of a simple de facto partition with Boko Haram controlling the north (as is happening already) would be a cause for concern.
Enter the AF.
With training, logistical, communications and intelligence support provided by the UK and the US, the Nigerian forces should be able to mitigate the problem to a certain degree. Would they completely drive out all members of Boko Haram and other imported extremists? Maybe, maybe not.
But as long as pressure is applied and the activities of such groups are limited then that is sufficient. To deny them the opportunity to achieve stability and safety, the chance to grow their support base and manpower, and the chance to grow their financial assets, is to prevent the problem from escalating beyond control.
"A stitch in time saves nine" as the saying goes.
In this case the stitch sewn by a composite force of soldiers from the AF in a capacity building role could prevent a gaping hole from forming later that would need plugging with many boots on the ground, blood, and a lot of cash. Will Her Majesty's ministers spot the danger early and take the opportunity to test the new concept?
I'm reminded of another phrase; there's no time like the present...