The Department of Defense (DOD) is considering deploying military advisers to train local forces to combat Boko Haram jihadists in violence-tormented Nigeria, Agence-France Presse (AFP) has learned from a U.S. official.
In a statement issued Friday, the United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM) revealed that the U.S. has offered to send special operations troops to help Nigeria combat Boko Haram.
“At the request of the Nigerian government, the SOCAFRICA (Special Operations Command Africa) component of USAFRICOM conducted a preliminary assessment regarding the feasibility of resuming a limited advise-and-assist mission alongside select Nigerian units,” said the statement, Reuters reports.
The deployment would consist of a “platoon-sized” team, typically meaning a group of between 12-30 troops, added the USAFRICOM.
Reuters points out that “the proposals are pending approval from various government departments and military officials.”
The New York Times first reported the potential deployment on Friday, saying the Pentagon had recommended sending “dozens” of noncombat special operations advisers to Nigeria’s Borno state capital, Maiduguri, “to help Nigerian military planners carry out a more effective counterterrorism campaign.”
Nevertheless, a U.S. defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity reportedly “downplayed the speed of any deployment, and said the operation was still being discussed.”
“I don’t think anyone is ready to approve anything today,” the official told AFP. “Recommendations were made, these are still being assessed.”
The U.S. has already deployed about 40 service members to Nigeria, where they are carrying out various operations including embassy support and military training.
Moreover, the U.S. has about 250 military personnel in neighboring Cameroon, Voice of America (VOA) reports, adding that most of them are operating U.S. military drones to monitor Boko Haram operations in the region.
Citing the anonymous official and referring to the potential deployment, AFP reports that “the US military made a string of recommendations after Nigeria’s leaders asked for help determining ‘possible courses of action’ in the fight against the Islamist militants.”
The report adds:
One recommendation was to send a group of US advisers — most likely special operations troops — to Nigeria to train local forces. They would not be in a combat role. Such a mission would be a resumption of an earlier Pentagon effort that Nigeria stopped in late 2014 amid US concerns of suspected Nigerian army abuses and its failure to protect civilians.
In a statement, the Pentagon reiterated that the deployment is still being finalized, AFP reports.
There were “still a number of decision points yet to be resolved,” reportedly said the Pentagon.
“These same type of advise-and-assist operations are ongoing across the African continent,” noted the statement, adding that “US military advisors are working every day to assist African partner nations in providing for their own defense and enable regional solutions to collective problem sets.”
The Obama administration’s move to block Nigeria’s efforts to purchase Cobra attack helicopters has reportedly strained the diplomatic relationship between the United States and Nigeria.
However, AFP points out, “The [U.S.] official said ties have improved under the new Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, who has vowed to do more than his predecessor Goodluck Jonathan to fight Boko Haram.”
Since its insurgency started in 2009, Boko Haram, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), has expanded to outside of Nigeria to Cameroon, Niger, and Chad as the military of those countries have supported the efforts to quash the jihadists.
As the U.S. mulls deploying special operations advisers to support Nigeria’s Boko Haram fight, the Associated Press (AP) reports, Gen. Jacob Kodji, commander of Cameroonian forces, revealed over the weekend that “Cameroonian and Nigerian forces have freed several hundred hostages in a border town held by Boko Haram including young girls who were being trained as suicide bombers.”
AP learned from Gen. Kodji that “soldiers from the two countries also killed about 100 militants while liberating the Nigerian town of Kumshe… the town is 9 miles (15 kilometers) from the border with Cameroon.”
“Our boys are still on the field with Nigerian soldiers and have received instructions to continue raids on all Boko Haram border villages until we defeat them,” the general told AP.
According to the United Nations and Amnesty International, Boko Haram, which seeks to carve out a strict Islamic state in northern Nigeria, has killed more than 20,000 people and displaced 2.8 million in West Africa since it began its insurgency.
“There is an urgent need to prevent Boko Haram from regenerating and possibly coming back more virulent, destructive, and globally connected than before,” Jennifer Cooke, Africa Program Director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week.
Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), hhairman of the House panel, welcomed the Pentagon plans to deploy military advisers to Nigeria, adding that the United States “can provide the high-level guidance that is crucially missing in the fight against Boko Haram.”