US advisers in Nigeria may get help from Special Operations to the front lines in the country’s fight against the West African group Boko Haram. Nigeria may soon see a deployment of American troops closer to the battle that as the government is forced to wage a war against an insurgency, according to Stars and Stripes.
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 in Nigeria, 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 counterterrorism missions.
Already, about 50 US advisers in Nigeria from Special Operations are helping fighters battling the Islamic State in eastern Syria. Scores more in a new, secret kill-or-capture unit are hunting Islamic State militants in Iraq. The Pentagon has offered to send American advisers with Iraqi brigades on the battlefield instead of restricting them to bases inside Iraq. Dozens of American commandos are conducting surveillance missions in Libya and counterterrorism missions in Somalia.
“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.”
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.
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.
“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, 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.
Groups like Human Rights Watch say the Nigerian military has at times burned hundreds of homes and committed other abuses as it battled Boko Haram and its presumed supporters.
Nigeria’s ambassador to the United States responded sharply at the time, accusing Washington of hampering the country’s effort to defeat Boko Haram. US advisers in Nigeria also expressed hesitancy about sharing intelligence with the Nigerian military, fearing their ranks had been infiltrated by Boko Haram, an accusation that further infuriated Nigerian leaders.