Nigeria Gets $593 Million in U.S. Military Aid While Seeking Russian Role in Boko Haram Fight

A trench is being dug around the University of Maiduguri in northeast Nigeria to prevent Boko Haram suicide attacks
AFP STEFAN HEUNIS

Nigeria will soon receive $593 million in military equipment to fight the ongoing Boko Haram terrorist siege of its northeast, a sale approved by the Obama administration but announced to occur on Monday. The weapons will arrive a week after Nigeria urged Russia to become more deeply involved in fighting Islamic terrorism in Africa.

The website Quartz reports that the bulk of the military equipment Nigeria will receive consists of surveillance and attack planes, to be used for airstrikes and monitoring Boko Haram targets. The terrorist group, which is a branch of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), has maintained the Sambisa Forest—a thick area of vegetation in northeast Borno state—as its principal hideout. The forest provides both a formidable hiding place for terrorists and for their hostages, the hundreds of girls and women the group forces into sex slavery and uses for cooking and caring for the children born of their systematic rape. Bombing the forest comes with the risk of killing these hostages.

“We are thankful to the U.S. Govt. for its decision to sell Super Tucano aircraft to Nigeria to aid its fight against the insurgency in the NE,” Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo said on Twitter, confirming the sale. The new aid will arrive in Nigeria shortly after a visit by a delegation of U.S. congressmen, led by Senator Christopher Coons (D-DE). “We have come to show our support to the Nigerian soldiers in the counter insurgency operation in the northeast Nigeria,” Coons said in remarks in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno. “We would increase our technical support to ensure that the crisis ravaging the region is brought to an end.”

The United States has provided Nigeria support in battling Boko Haram for years, despite the Nigerian government’s repeated claims to have defeated the group. President Muhammadu Buhari first declared victory against Boko Haram in December 2015 and the Nigerian military has claimed to have killed leader Abubakar Shekau on multiple occasions, all refuted by messages from Shekau himself.

Despite America’s support, the Nigerian government began reaching out to Russia last week. According to Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper, Nigerian Defence Minister Mansur Dan-Ali met his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu at a Moscow conference last week and urged Russia to involve itself in the war against the ISIS group.

“We know that insurgency is a global problem, and Russia has been assisting Afghanistan, Syria and Turkey in this regard,” he told reporters. “We are also looking for assistance from Russia in our sub-region since we have similar problem of insurgency. Russia is playing a very important role in the Middle East, especially, in fighting ISIL.”

“All around the globe Russia has been doing very well fighting terrorism,” Dan-Ali added.

Dan-Ali also specifically requested Russian equipment to fight the terrorist group. “The Russian equipment that could be of our interest are MiG fighters and some artillery equipment. … We also looked at the (Yak-)130 jet and also we are thinking how to go about it,” he said. “We just had a look and now when we go back home we look at some of its specifications before we sit down for negotiations.”

Russia has already taken on an outsized role in the fight against the Islamic State in Libya, where Moscow has backed the anti-jihadist former Qaddafi general-turned-rebel Khalifa Haftar. “Moscow’s foothold in Libya is growing. This issue is important to watch in the months ahead,” Russian foreign policy expert Anna Borshchevskaya told the U.S. Congress in June. “Putin increasingly supports Libya’s Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who controls the oil-rich eastern part of the country but wants more.”

A few months prior, U.S. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the top American commander in Africa, warned Congress, “Russia is trying to exert influence on the ultimate decision of who becomes, and what entity becomes, in charge of the government inside Libya.”

Dan-Ali’s remarks suggest Russia is also seeking to exploit a power vacuum in Nigeria, an oil- and resource-rich nation.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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