‘Pentagon to send dozens of Special Operations advisers to the front lines of Nigeria’s fight against the West African militant group Boko Haram’
– US military officials
... Deployment would push American troops hundreds of miles closer to the battle that Nigerian forces are waging against an insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians in the country’s northeast as well as in neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
Nigerian Army soldiers during an operation against Boko Haram militants last November.
The deployment is a main recommendation of a recent confidential assessment by the top United States Special Operations commander for Africa, Brig. Gen. Donald C. Bolduc. If it is approved, as expected, by the Defense and State Departments, the Americans would serve only in noncombat advisory roles, military officials said.
Even as President Obama has drawn down the large American armies sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, he has relied heavily on Special Operations forces to train and advise local troops fighting the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and to carry out clandestine counter-terrorism missions.
Photo: Credit Stefan Heunis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
A Nigerian Army soldier in Lagos last year.
“Rather than entangle U.S. combat forces on the ground, help build the capacity of regional forces to tackle their countries’ security challenges,” said Jennifer G. Cooke, Africa director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, who visited Nigeria last month. “Training and advising and perhaps imparting the lessons we learned the hard way is a good thing.”
President Muhammadu Buhari Of Nigeria
Since taking office last year, Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, has vowed to pursue a military campaign against Boko Haram more vigorously than his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan. His shake-up of the military high command and new cooperation with neighboring countries has proved effective.
Mr. Buhari, a former general, has boasted of the military’s successes in wresting control of a huge portion of terrain from the group, declaring a “technical” victory late last year. But while the military has killed or captured thousands of militants and put an end to raids of villages by dozens or more fighters, the group has still carried out suicide attacks at a relentless pace in Nigeria and neighboring countries.
General David M. Rodriguez, commander United States Africa Command, AFRICOM
“Despite losing territory in 2015, Boko Haram will probably remain a threat to Nigeria throughout 2016 and will continue its terror campaign within the country and in neighboring Cameroon, Niger and Chad,” James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told the House Intelligence Committee in Washington on Thursday.
To help combat this threat, Mr. Buhari has embraced American assistance, ending several years of tense relations that sank to new lows in 2014 when the United States blocked the sale of American-made Cobra attack helicopters to Nigeria from Israel, amid concerns about Nigeria’s protection of civilians when conducting military operations.
Gen. Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin chief of Defense Staff Nigeria
Two weeks ago, Gen. David M. Rodriguez, the head of the Pentagon’s Africa Command, hosted Nigeria’s chief of defense staff, Gen. Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin, at the American headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. “To contain Boko Haram, working together is a priority,” General Rodriguez told his visitor.
About 250 American service members have deployed to a military base in Garoua, Cameroon, where United States surveillance drones flying over northeastern Nigeria are sending imagery to African troops. Drone photos recently helped the Nigerian Army avoid a major Boko Haram ambush, according to a senior American intelligence officer.
Another breakthrough occurred late last year when General Bolduc, a Green Beret with multiple Special Forces tours in Afghanistan, visited Nigeria. When officials there asked for assistance, General Bolduc quickly sent an assessment team to conduct a 30-day review.
Among the team’s main recommendations was to position “small dozens” of Special Forces in Maiduguri, a major city in the northeast on the edge of the conflict, to help Nigerian military planners carry out a more effective counter-terrorism campaign. British special forces are already assisting in the city. (The American military now maintains only a tiny intelligence cell in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.) Nigerian military officials have embraced the recommendations and are drawing up detailed requests, American officials said.
Just last fall, life seemed to be turning back to normal in the areas near Maiduguri, which for years had been the epicenter of Boko Haram’s activities. But after a major military operation uprooted the militants from nearby villages they had seized, many fighters have returned to Maiduguri to launch repeated suicide bombing operations in the city or in villages on the outskirts that have caused dozens of deaths.
At the end of last year, fighters attacked the city with rocket-propelled grenades and several suicide bombs. Residents say they eye one another with suspicion, especially women wearing religious gowns, fearful that explosives may be hidden underneath.
These relentless attacks have put more pressure on Nigeria and its neighbors to marshal their forces against a common enemy.
After taking office last year, Mr. Buhari began forging relationships with the presidents of neighboring countries to establish information-sharing and to build trust between his nation and Niger, Cameroon and Chad. But grouping the four nations together to share information and untangling decades of mistrust among them have proved harder.
A regional task force established by the countries last year has largely stalled amid lingering distrust and differing views about the threat. Less than half of the task force’s $700 million budget has been raised, and sinking oil prices have hurt the economies of Chad and Nigeria, Ms. Cooke said in congressional testimony this week.Still, working together has yielded victories. Earlier this month, the Cameroonians teamed up with the Nigerian military as part of a joint operation on Nigerian soil just across the border in the far north, killing more than 160 Boko Haram fighters, dismantling a logistics hub for the fighters and destroying explosive devices, according to officials there.