Addis Ababa - The African Union has endorsed a West African plan to set up a regional task force of 7 500 to fight Islamist Boko Haram militants, a senior official said on Thursday, a vital step towards securing U.N. Security Council backing.
Neighbours Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Benin agreed earlier this month to call on the African Union (AU) to seek U.N. Security Council support for their plan to take on insurgents who are fighting to create an Islamic state in northern Nigeria.
Boko Haram has made incursions into neighbouring Cameroon and threatens the stability of a region that includes Niger and Chad. Benin lies on Nigeria's western border.
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"We are thinking of a force of 7 500 women and men. The next step is to submit (approval) to the U.N. Security Council," Smail Chergui, the commissioner of the AU's Peace and Security Council, told reporters on the sidelines of an African summit in Addis Ababa. Tackling Boko Haram was top of the agenda at the meeting of African leaders and officials.
"Hopefully now with this concept, this force will be better organised and we can achieve the goal that we are looking for, that is to really stop the killing and these barbaric acts of Boko Haram," Chergui said.
A U.N. mandate could help draw international assistance for the African regional force.
The African group plans to meet next week in Cameroon to draw up a "concept of operations" to cover strategy, rules of engagement, command and control, and related issues, Chergui said.
Senior officials have told Reuters that each of the five nations would contribute a battalion and each contingent would be based within its national borders with operations coordinated from Chad's capital N'Djamena.