On 8 January, Cameroon's president Paul Biya called for an international response to Boko Haram, indicating the severity of the threat it poses and the inability of Cameroonian forces to withstand it.
The number of Boko Haram militants and attacks in Cameroon has increased in the past year.
Boko Haram attacks in the north are likely to intensify in the three-month outlook, and as a result, reinforcing and funding the Cameroonian military will be a government priority.
Kidnap risks in the south are moderate while risks of attacks on oil operations are negligible.
Over the past 12 months, Nigeria-based militant group Boko Haram has attacked rural areas of the Far North province of Cameroon using differing tactics. Most commonly, groups infiltrate communities for supplies and then, dressed in military fatigues, attack dwellings. Since March, Boko Haram fighters, armed with assault rifles and knives, have regularly attacked Cameroonian soldiers who are in isolated positions. In October, the group's operations escalated to include firing Grad-type indirect rockets and planting anti-personnel mines. Then in December, the strength of Boko Haram attacks on security bases increased to several hundred from previous groupings of less than 50 attackers.
Risks from Boko Haram in south and north Cameroon
IHS assesses that Boko Haram is unlikely to launch attacks in central and south Cameroon, where the capital, Yaoundé, and port city, Douala, are located, given their distance (more than 800 km) from Boko Haram's area of operations, closer to its main focus in Nigeria.
The immediate threat is to the Far North province, where Boko Haram is likely to attempt to take control of towns along the Nigerian border, as well as those further inside Cameroon, such as Fotokol, Kolofata, Amchide, and Achigachia. Boko Haram is likely to be looking to destabilise the whole of Far North region so that it can serve as a secure rear area for its Nigerian operations, which require food supplies, weapons, and ammunition from Sudan and Libya via Chad.
The heat map uses density analysis to identify hotspots for cross-border
Despite the relatively effective Intervention Brigade, Cameroonian forces are unlikely to be capable of containing, still less defeating, Boko Haram. The government has tasked its Rapid Intervention Brigade (BIR) with leading the fight against Boko Haram. It is supported by the regular army, particularly an armoured reconnaissance battalion and a motorised infantry brigade.
Under retired Israeli commander Mayer Heretz, the BIR receives training that differentiates it from regular Cameroonian, as well as other, regional troops. The unit has had several successes against Boko Haram, for example, on 12 January a BIR unit killed 143 Boko Haram militants in Kolofata, near the Nigerian border.
According to an IHS source close to the Ministry of Defence, the BIR has called on four attack helicopters: Mi-24 SA-342 Gazelle, Mi-17, and Huey II helicopters, as well as artillery and ground attack air support. The same source stated that around 3,000 BIR troops are deployed in Far North, with new recruits expected imminently. However, this force is not enough to stop Boko Haram, still less defeat it. Neither does Cameroon have dedicated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, which would be crucial to a counter-terrorism campaign. Moreover, the BIR are said to be losing local support over allegations of abuses and other alleged excesses.
Boko Haram's movements are likely to go undetected in several areas, increasing the probability of multiple successes in its strategy to intensify attacks in Cameroon.
Protection of oil assets and funding of military likely to be prioritized in 2015
The BIR also has units stationed in strategic parts of central and south Cameroon with 1,000 men around Douala and in Bakassi, respectively. The state-owned Cameroonian Hydrocarbons Company provides 60% of the BIR's funding. The Ministry of Defence provides the other 40%. This suggests that the BIR's southern units' priorities will be the security of the oil assets in Bakassi, Bonabéri, the Nyong and Ntem river basins, as well as the pipeline between Kribi Port and neighbouring Chad.
Falling oil prices in Cameroon will be mitigated by increased production, which is expected to double by 2016. The 2015 military budget is set at USD415 million, a near 6% increase from 2014. Although under pressure from falling cereal production as a result of instability in the north, the Cameroonian economy is likely to remain buoyant and the government will be able to raise the funds needed to support military objectives.
President Biya's public calls for global assistance in fighting Boko Haram are unlikely to be met. Cameroon is not of great economic or strategic interest to the US or to France, whose overseas defence budgets are already stretched in fighting other Islamist groups in the Sahel and in the Horn of Africa. Intervention by the African Union (AU) is also unlikely, given that potential troop contributors are already overstretched in Mali and the Central African Republic. This would change in the unlikely event that Boko Haram succeeds in establishing bases Baga in northeastern Nigeria and Achigachia in north Cameroon.
Outlook and implications
Boko Haram is likely to step up its attacks over the next three months to a year. Risks of kidnap for ransom of any international construction, humanitarian, or mining workers will remain severe.
Risks in central and south Cameroon are likely to increase as Boko Haram establishes a base area in the Far North. However, risks to oil operations, expatriates, and industry assets in and near the southern cities of Yaoundé, Douala, and Bamenda (in Bakassi) are mitigated by the concentration of BIR troops in these areas.
The risks associated with Boko Haram's presence in Cameroon will not decrease without international intervention; government control is likely to have to be seen to have lost over the Far North before intervention becomes likely.