US officials have disclosed that the United States administration is seeking to approve a sale of as many as twelve A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft to Nigeria to aid in its battle against Boko Haram, in a vote of confidence in President Muhammadu Buhari’s drive to reform the country’s corruption-tainted military.
According to the officials, Washington is also dedicating more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to the campaign against the Islamist militants in the region and plans to provide additional training to Nigerian infantry forces. The possible sale, which the officials indicated was favoured within the US administration but which is still subject to review by Congress, effectively underscores the deepening US involvement in helping governments in northern and western Africa combat extremist groups. US Navy Vice Admiral Micahel Franken, a deputy commander of the Pentagon’s Africa Command, told a Washington forum last week that there are now 6,200 US troops, most of them Special Operations Forces, who are operating from 26 locations across the African continent.
The widening US military cooperation is apolitical victory for Nigerian President Buhari, who took office in May last year on a pledge to crack down on the rampant corruption that has undermined the armed forces in Africa’s most populous country. According to one US official, “the Buhari administration I think has really reenergized the bilateral relationship in a fundamental way.” The previous Nigerian government under former president Goodluck Jonathan had scorned the United States for blocking arms sales partly because of human rights concerns. It had also criticized Washington for failing to speed the sharing of intelligence. The souring relations hit a low at the end of 2014 when US military training of Nigerian forces was abruptly halted. This however is changing under Buhari’s administration, whose crackdown on corruption has led to a raft of charges against top national security officials in the previous government. Many of the funds alleged to have been misused and siphoned off by corrupt Nigerian officials under Jonathan’s government were earmarked for the fight against Boko Haram, which ahs killed thousands in northeastern Nigeria and neighboring countries over the last seven years and which pledged loyalty to the so-called Islamic State (IS) group last year. The accused officials include Nigeria’s former chief of defense staff, who last month pleaded not guilty to using money allocated for Nigeria’s air force to purchase a mansion and a commercial plot of land and to build a shopping centre. A second US official has disclosed that “Buhari made clear from the get-go that his number one priority was reforming the military to defeat Boko Haram…And he sees us as part of that solution.” However officials have noted that serious human rights abuses committed by security forces, which include police, increased in 2015, according go the US State Department’s annual human rights reports.
The US Congress has not yet been formally notified of the possible US approval of the sale of Embraer’s A29 Super Tucano turboprop aircraft to Nigeria. The Tucanos can be used for training, surveillance or attack and can be armed with two wing-mounted machine guns and can carry up to 1,550 kg (3,417 pounds) of weapons. One production line for the Super Tucano is located in Florida, where it is built with US firm Sierra Nevada Corp. According to one of the US officials, the aircraft that would be sold to Nigeria come with a “very basic armed configuration.” The sale of the aircraft could offer Nigeria a more maneuverable aircraft that can stay aloft for extended periods to target Boko Haram formations. While officials have not disclosed the cost of the planes to be sold to Nigeria, a contract for twenty similar aircraft, which was sold to Afghanistan, was valued at about US $428 million at the time that it was announced in 2013.
African armies routed Boko Haram from much of its self-proclaimed caliphate in northeastern Nigeria last year. However its fighters have since regrouped and have intensified their attacks in the Lake Chad Basin region, threatening regional security despite the creation of a 9,000-strong African multinational force to counter it. One US official has indicated that the US military expects to train a second Nigerian infantry battalion once the current group completes its training later this year. While US officials have not specified what type of additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets would be provided to bolster the regional fight against Boko Haram, they have acknowledged that they have a tough task combating the group, which is sending women and children strapped with explosives to blow up civilian targets, such as bus stops and market places.
According to a new report that was published on Wednesday, suspected Boko Haram suicide bombings caused a massive increase in the number of civilian deaths an injured in Nigeria in 2015.
Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) has reported that the number of fatalities and injures increased 190 percent last year from the previous year while the use of human suicide bombers rose 167 percent during the same period. AOAV reported in “Unacceptable Harm – Monitoring Explosive Violence in 2015” that of the 3,048 deaths recorded in 84 incidents in Nigeria in 2015, 2,920 were civilian casualties, or 96 percent of the total, noting that this made Nigeria the fourth worst-hit country in the world for deaths and injuries from conflict in 2015, behind Syria, Yemen and Iraq, with Afghanistan in fifth. The London-based non-profit group has stated that the increase was part of a global trend that had seen a rise in civilian casualties from “explosive weapons” for the fourth consecutive year. “Explosive weapons” include artillery shells, landmines, air strikes, improvised explosive devices, car bombs and suicide attacks. While Boko Haram only rarely claims responsibility for attacks, there is no other group in the country known to employ suicide bombers as a tactic. The report disclosed that assuming the Islamists were behind the attacks, “then it would make them the most prolific user of suicide bombings recorded by the AOAV in 2015.” Over the past year, Boko Haram has increasingly used suicide bombings in its insurgency, which began in 2009. In particular young women and girls have become a favoured method of inflicting maximum civilian causalities in northeastern Nigerian as well as in neighboring states in the Lake Chad region. AOAV has reported that 923 civilians were killed or injured in neighboring Cameroon and Chad in eighteen incidents that were reported in 2015. Boko Haram’s use of guerrilla-style tactics has long made it difficult to combat, even though President Muhammadu Buhari maintains that the group has been “technically” defeated. On 26 April, the military warned the public in a statement that “fleeing remnant terrorists have laid landmines on stretches of farmland.” The statement further disclosed that “these latest tactics of the terrorists is a grand design to cause fear and panic among the farmers as well as the local populace,” It noted that efforts are currently underway to “neutralize” the mines. It also advised people to be wary of “strange or suspicious objects” in the soil. The latest warning risks complicating further the return of many of the over 2.6 million people displaced by the violence, amidst concern about food shortages and post-conflict reconstruction costs.
According to the AOAV report, a total of 43,786 deaths and injuries were reported worldwide in 2015 as a result of the use of explosive weapons – up two percent from 2014. Civilian deaths accounted for 33,307 or 76 percent of deaths. Over the past five years, AOAV has recorded a total of 188,331 deaths and injuries across the world.
Last week, an African Union (AU) official reported that funding for a multinational force to combat Boko Haram’s deadly Islamist insurgency in West and Central Africa remains well short of its target.
In comments made shortly after a meeting in Addis Ababa to discuss funding, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council disclosed that so far, including Nigeria, Switzerland and France, have pledged about US $250 million to fund the 8,700-strong regional force. According to Orlando Bama, communications officer for the African Union’s Peace and Security Council, the US $250 million includes both previous pledges and those made during Monday’s conference. That effectively covers just over a third of the US $700 million budget that was announced for the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) last year.
The task force, which is to be made up of regional African militaries, has yet to mobilize. Instead, national armies are tackling Boko Haram individually, however they often cannot follow the insurgency across the region’s long, porous borders. Regional armies from Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria mounted an offensive against the insurgents last year, which ousted them from many positions in northern Nigeria. The United States has also sent troops to supply intelligence and other assistance, however progress has been slow, with Boko Haram continuing to have the capabilities to launch deadly attacks both inside Nigeria, as well as in the Lake Chad Basin.
Monday’s talks come after the militant group’s latest attack, which killed at least 65 people in northeastern Nigeria on Saturday.