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May 16, 2014

Senate Hearing Examines Whole-of-Government Approach to Counterterrorism

By Heather Brandon

“From our own difficult experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, we know that turning the tide of an insurgency requires more than force.” These were the words of the State Department’s Ambassador Robert P. Jackson, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, at yesterday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing examining Boko Haram’s recent kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian school girls and the United States’ response.

Ambassador Jackson’s statement is important, not just for U.S. efforts in Nigeria but for the U.S.’s own counterterrorism policies.

A whole-of-government approach to counterterrorism was the general theme expressed at yesterday’s hearing. Alice Friend, the Department of Defense’s Principal Director for African Affairs. testified that Nigeria’s counterterrorism efforts need “a serious and focused response that draws on all efforts of its government and mak(es) maximum use of the resources international partners are offering to them.”

Friend emphasized the need for a variety of tools, including diplomacy, intelligence sharing, humanitarian assistance and strategic communications and to work with regional partners and international allies to counter the Boko Haram threat.

This sentiment was echoed by Lantana Abdullahi, a Nigerian Project Manager from Search for a Common Ground, a conflict prevention and conflict resolution NGO, who testified at the hearing via video link.  Abdullahi thanked the American people for their support in rescue operations and said that to appropriately respond to the Boko Haram threat, “in particular, we also need to look at other non-military support from the American government.”

Abdullahi stressed the need for community driven peace building strategies, a regional approach to halt the spread of militancy, and combating human rights abuses by Nigerian security forces.  Friend, in noting the widely documented atrocities committed by Nigeria’s military in responding to Boko Haram, stated that the U.S. is “urging (Nigeria) to take a more holistic approach and a frankly, much less brutal approach in the north, against Boko Haram.”

Ambassador Jackson noted that bringing the girls home would not end the conflict with Boko Haram, stating that “(U.S.) assistance is framed by our broader and long-term policy goal of helping Nigerians implement a comprehensive response to defeating Boko Haram that protects civilians, respects human rights, and addresses the underlying causes of the conflict.”

Yesterday’s hearing was about a particular crisis in a particular country but it has broader implications.  We must learn the lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq. Maintaining a war paradigm, with a focus on military action, is an ineffective  answer to this complex problem. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee should use yesterday’s hearing to inform counterterrorism policy and ensure that strategic, focused efforts are made, with priority given to the rule of law and the protection of human rights.