The news came hard for the Aoudou Man family, always fearful of news about Islamist terrorist attacks in northern Cameroon. That’s because two sons from the family have been serving in the Cameroonian army, fighting militants of the Nigerian-based Islamist terror group, Boko Haram.
Their fear was realized on July 24 with news that their son was a casualty of the first of two attacks by ISIS-related terrorists in the Fourth Joint Military Region in the Far North Region of the country, killing 13 soldiers and a civilian. Authorities use the catchall term “Boko Haram,” for the attackers, although they may have been elements of the newly refortified insurgency known as the Islamic State of West Africa (ISWAP).
Zanguim Jean De Dieu Man, 25, was among eight soldiers who died following the first attack, at 4:00 a.m., July 24, at a military outpost in the Logone-and-Chari Division of Cameroon’s Far North Region that shares a porous border with northeastern Nigeria –Boko Haram’s base.
“It is very painful,” Douna Belmond Man, brother to the fallen soldier, told The Epoch Times on the phone.
“Looking at the corpse, it is hard to decipher the manner of his death. He was completely burnt. It is difficult to recognize his corpse. I can’t describe the gravity of this pain in our family,” said the 54-year-old, who just retired from Cameroon’s gendarmerie corps.
“The family is completely lost,” Douna told The Epoch Times.
“We don’t know whether his corpse is still in the battleground or if it has already been brought to Yaounde,” Douna said. Zanguim had served in the Cameroon army for barely three years.
The second attack struck the army barely 48 hours later—on Monday evening, July 26—at the base of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) near the same area, and left five soldiers and a civilian dead. Sixteen soldiers were wounded in the two incidents.
‘New Boko Haram’
“We are facing a new Boko Haram,” Cameroon’s Minister of Defense, Joseph Beti Assomo, told the press shortly before an in-camera security meeting which he convened in the region Thursday.
“This security meeting is to scrupulously examine the new form of threat posed by Boko Haram, and to take appropriate measures to adjust our military strategy to this new form,” he said.
The Head of Communication Division of Cameroon’s Defense Ministry, Atongfack Guemo Cyrille Serge, said in a statement that ‘’several assailants [were] neutralized and their bodies carted away as the terrorists retreated, as is their custom in such circumstances.” But he did not state the exact number of the militants killed in the clashes.
Atongfack however stated the country’s readiness to “prevent possible new assaults by the terrorist hydra Boko Haram which seems to have bounced in full force following the internal restructuring of its ideology and its conquest of the field.”
Cameroon recorded the highest number of Boko Haram attacks against civilians in 2020—totaling 234—slightly higher than Nigeria (100), Niger (92), and Chad (12) combined, according to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a U.S. think tank.
Boko Haram attacks have killed more than 3,000 people in the Far North Region of Cameroon, displaced about quarter a million while triggering the rise of vigilante self-defense groups according to International Crisis Group.
The group confirmed in Mid-June that its leader, Abubakr Shekau blew himself up.
Before his demise, most attacks in Cameroon were carried out by a faction known as Boko Haram, which he led, whereas the (ISWAP) faction chiefly operated around the Nigeria-Niger and Nigeria-Chad borders. ISWAP broke ranks with Boko Haram in 2016, affiliating with the Islamist State group.
“It is hard to say with certainty the origin of the attacks,” Suh I Fru Nobert, lecturer and researcher in the Department of Political Science and Comparative Politics in Cameroon’s University of Buea, told The Epoch Times in a text.
“That’s probably why the government of Cameroon points fingers at Boko Haram. What is certain is that the attacks are terrorist attacks and the mode of operation is common among terrorist groups,” he said.
New Strategy Needed
Suh warns a power tussle between two terrorists groups can never be in the interest of peace and stability in the two regions.
“The very nature of their operation, as terrorist groups, who make use of unlawful violence for political reasons, is common to all terrorist groups. If the government of the two states affected can take advantage of the division, then fine and good. That can be possible if they go by what I can call ‘strategic infiltration.’ Otherwise, we should note that no power tussle or division is permanent.”
Experts believe the latest attacks in northern Cameroon expose grisly cracks in the Multinational Joint Task Force—a force set up in 2015 to support regional cooperation among Lake Chad Basin countries to fight Boko Haram.
“The attacks demonstrate that the MNJTF is not effective,” David Otto, Defence consultant to the Nigerian government, told The Epoch Times in a text.
“If [ISWAP militants] can carry out an attack in Cameroon and retreat into Nigeria, it means [Lake Chad Basin] countries do not have the capacity to protect the porous borders and extensive boundaries,” he said.
Suh said the Multinational Joint Task Force needed to restrategize even with the purported death of a terrorist leader.
“It should be on a permanent alert and be offensive in its strategy against terrorism. The asymmetric nature of terrorist warfare makes a true claim for defeat difficult.”
Otto said the latest attacks in northern Cameroon are a clear message from the ISWAP to its sponsors and supporters that it is still present in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad.
“These attacks are to demonstrate its capacity to launch deadly attacks in all countries located in the Lake Chad Basin,” he told The Epoch Times.
“To ISWAP supporters, it is fulfilling its narrative that it only targets military positions and personnel of enemy countries and not civilians; a strategy used to win hearts and minds and secure the confidence of local communities for strategic and operational advantage.”
During his visit to Maroua, capital of Cameroon’s Far North Region, Minister Beti Assomo comforted the wounded soldiers.
“We want to reassure the wounded soldiers of all the moral and material support of the President of the Republic and the entire high command,” he said.
One of the victims of the attack, Lieutenant Innocent Beidi, told the Minister from his hospital bed:
“As soon as we are treated, we shall continue the mission. It is our role. We are ready for it.”
Until recently, there were no significant attacks from Islamist militants in northern Cameroon—thereby creating the illusion that the group had been defeated, said Suh.
“Media announcement of the death of Boko Haram leader could have created a feeling of effective victory over terrorism among the task force. Unfortunately, as we can see, it is not the case.”
“Although it is also true that the death of Idriss Deby [late president of Chad and a frontline general] , well known for his confrontational and galvanizing anti-terrorism actions, could have weakened the moral of the task force, however, that is not certain again,” Suh said.
Beti Assomo noted that “the fight against Boko Haram is taking a new turn.”
“These latest attacks will not go without an appropriate retaliation from the Cameroon army,” the Defense Minister said.