Boko Haram isn't going away without a fight.
The Islamic militant group, which killed nearly 2,000 Nigerians in a single attack this year and kidnapped hundreds of woman and children during the last several months, clashed with Nigerian troops in Maiduguri (the capital of Nigeria's Borno State), in fierce fighting that killed nearly 200 combatants on Sunday, the Associated Press reports.
According to the Associated Press, "the insurgents continued scorched-earth attacks on villages some 125 miles to the south in Adamawa state, slitting throats of residents, looting and burning homes and abducting dozens of trapped women and children, according to Vandu Kainu and other escaping survivors."
"Certainly this is the most serious attack yet," Kashim Shettima, the governor of Borno State, told the New York Times. "We faced a really existential threat."
It's only going to get worse: Far from being an isolated attack, Boko Haram's latest onslaught is part of a steadily growing trend. As Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer noted in the aftermath of the deadly attack that left 2,000 dead, the violence perpetrated by Boko Haram insurgents has been intensifying for the last few years:
"The conflict is rapidly intensifying," Nathaniel Allen, Peter M. Lewis and Hilary Matfess, from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, write in the Washington Post. "Nigerian casualties are now running more than double those in Afghanistan and substantially higher than in Iraq just a few years ago. An estimated 3,120 civilian and military casualties were recorded in Afghanistan last year. In Iraq, 4,207 fatalities were estimated in 2011 in the wake of the surge. The worsening conflict in northern Nigeria already has suffered more casualties this year than the world's most publicized contemporary wars."
As Mic's Sophie Kleeman noted earlier in January, Boko Haram "is now on par with the Islamic State in terms of violent deaths" — the latter was responsible for roughly 5,500 deaths in 2014, which is comparable to the estimates outlined above — but "there isn't nearly as much hand-wringing over the Nigerian terrorist group."
Boko Haram's rise will also reach the polls: The AP notes that the multiple attacks come as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital nearly 1,000 miles southwest of Maiduguri, to encourage peaceful elections on Feb. 14.
"This will be the largest democratic election on the continent," Kerry said. "Given the stakes, it's absolutely critical that these elections be conducted peacefully — that they are credible, transparent and accountable."
The visit from a senior U.S. official a week before elections is "unusual, though not unprecedented," writes the Washington Post's Carol Morello. "In general, U.S. representatives strive to avoid the appearance of trying to influence the outcome," Morello says, "but Kerry's stop in Lagos reflects the growing concern that the election could trigger waves of violence. In the last, disputed presidential election in 2011, about 800 people died in the resulting riots."
Chances are, the rising tide of militant violence may hurt the current Nigerian government at the polls. President Jonathan made a surprise visit to Maiduguri 10 days ago, pledging to crush the insurgents, but his repeated promises "are ringing hollow as Boko Haram since August has seized and kept control of large swaths of the northeast, including key border crossings into Cameroon, Chad and Niger," the AP notes.
"While [Jonathan] talks of his 'transformation agenda' for Nigeria, the government has been plagued by massive corruption scandals, the economy is suffering from falling oil prices and the nation faces surging violence from the vicious jihadist insurgency in the north," observes the Independent's Ian Birrell. "His bumbling reaction to the rise of Boko Haram underlines the inadequacies of Nigerian governance."
Editor's Note: Feb. 12, 2015
An earlier version of this article cited and linked to the Associated Press, but did not include quotations around the phrase "the insurgents continued scorched-earth attacks on villages some 125 miles to the south in Adamawa state, slitting throats of residents, looting and burning homes and abducting dozens of trapped women and children, according to Vandu Kainu and other escaping survivors." The story has been updated to fully attribute the Associated Press' language.