Adding to their woes are the Boko Haram attacks. Most southerners depend on northern Nigeria for goods, but the lawlessness there, border closings and intensified security searches have driven up prices of staple foods such as millet by 60 percent. “When I go to Nigeria these days, I am taking a huge risk,” said Alaji Rabi Ali, a trader in Maradi. “So I have to raise my prices.”
This year, Boko Haram sent several threatening letters to Muslim imams who preached against the militia’s ideology, said U.N. security officials. As in other areas, Boko Haram has its sympathizers here. Some families are refusing to vaccinate children because they view it as a Western conspiracy or have stopped sending girls to schools. Men from Diffa have traveled into Nigeria to fight alongside Boko Haram.
Against this backdrop, Capt. Danny and his Special Forces team are training Nigerien soldiers to better patrol their borders and to better engage with the local population. But senior government officials believe they deserve more international sympathy and support for their struggle against the Islamists. They say a military intervention in Mali is the best way to erase the threat, as well as send a strong warning to Boko Haram.