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Nigeria to lead new regional force against Boko Haram

File photo of Nigerian soldiers patrolling in the north of Borno state close to a former Boko Haram camp.
File photo of Nigerian soldiers patrolling in the north of Borno state close to a former Boko Haram camp. Quentin Leboucher, AFP

Nigeria and its neighbours agreed on Thursday that Abuja would lead a new regional military force to counter Boko Haram, a fresh sign of President Muhammadu Buhari's intent to crush the Islamist militant group.


The new force will be headed by a Nigerian commander, the five-nation coalition agreed, after Buhari rejected calls for a rotating command between the partners, arguing that a changing leadership could hamper the counter-insurgency effort.

A final communiqué following talks in Abuja on the remit of the new 8,700-strong force backed Buhari's call for a Nigerian military chief to control operations.

Cameroon will take the No. 2 role of "deputy first commander" for an initial 12 months while a Chadian will be appointed chief of staff for the first year, the statement said.

"National contingents" of troops for the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) from Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin should be deployed by July 30, it added.

The MNJTF will replace an existing ad hoc military coalition that includes troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon and which has claimed a series of successes against Boko Haram since February.

There are hopes the new force will be more effective and deliver a hammer blow to the Islamic State-affiliated group, whose six-year insurgency has left at least 15,000 dead and more than 1.5 million homeless.

Global war against terror

Buhari has made ending the Boko Haram insurgency his top priority since coming to power on May 29.

The former military ruler has already moved the Nigerian army's command centre from Abuja to Maiduguri, Boko Haram's northeastern stronghold.

Last weekend Buhari appealed to world leaders at the G7 summit in Germany for more help in combating extremism and visited Chad and Niger to push for long-term co-operation on security threats.

He told his regional counterparts and Cameroon's defence minister, representing President Paul Biya, on Thursday that there was a need to view the insurgency as part of the "global war against terror".

"Terrorism has no frontiers and it must, because of its great implications for regional and global peace and security, be defeated," he said.

Rules of engagement

The regional meeting was being closely watched for indications of the extent to which foreign forces can operate inside Nigerian territory.

Chad and Niger have both complained that the previous Nigerian administration of former president Goodluck Jonathan prevented their troops from pursuing militant fighters deeper into Nigeria's northeast.

But Buhari suggested that authorising the movements of foreign troops on Nigerian soil would not be an issue.

"On the rules of engagement, we have gone beyond that because all of our neighbours – especially Chad and Niger – have come into Nigerian territory to chase away Boko Haram and secure the territory for Nigeria," he told reporters.

Nigeria has promised $100 million in initial funds for the MNJTF, Buhari said, adding that long-term funding was still a "major issue".

The regional partners called for financial backing from the African Union for "operations, logistics and general mission support" and asked the UN Security Council to back the force.


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