Five African states have agreed to form a new military coalition to fight Boko Haram, the Islamist insurgency that has ravaged the region in recent years, in the first significant move against the group by Nigeria’s new president.
Muhammadu Buhari, a former general who was inaugurated two weeks ago, promised to defeat Boko Haram during his campaign to be president. The new force, which will comprise of 8,700 troops from Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin, is expected to begin operations before the end of next month.
The agreement was announced on Thursday evening after talks in Abuja. The coalition will have, “the military capacity to sustain the push against the insurgents, who also have the uncanny ability to adapt and rejig their operational strategies,” Mr Buhari said before the discussions.
The move marks a step forward for the countries directly affected by Boko Haram’s violence. Under Mr Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, both Cameroon and Chad complained that their efforts to defeat the militants were being stymied by Nigeria’s refusal to let their troops cross the border, which allowed Boko Haram to regroup and strengthen in Nigeria’s lawless north eastern frontier.
Colonel Joseph Nouma, the commander of the Cameroonian special forces unit tasked with fighting Boko Haram, told The Independent two days before Mr Buhari’s inauguration that his troops were becoming frustrated by the Nigerians’ opposition to foreign fighters inside its territory. “The Nigerians will not allow us to cross the border and chase Boko Haram,” he complained.
Asked about the complaints, Mr Buhari hinted at a change of policy. “Terrorism has no frontiers,” he said.
If Mr Buhari has dedicated his first weeks in office to tacking Boko Haram, the militants, who in March sworn allegiance to Isis in the Middle East, have marked his coming into office with a increase in their attacks. More than 150 people have been killed in several attacks and suicide bombings in Nigeria since the 29 May.
The latest, on six villages in Borno state near the Boko Haram stronghold in the Sambisa forest, left 37 people dead on 10 June.
The new military coalition will have a budget of $30m, and will be headed by a Nigerian general. In order to assuage competing interests, it will be based in the Chadian capital, N'djamena. Mr Buhari rejected a request from the other countries that the leadership of the mission be rotated.
A communiqué issued at the end of the Abuja summit said that a Nigerian would lead the force, “until the end of the mission”.
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