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Buhari draws red line for regional anti-Boko Haram force

12 June 2015, 06:40

Abuja -A new regional fighting force against Boko Haram will be headed by a Nigerian commander, the five-nation coalition agreed on Thursday, after talks on military strategy against the militants.

The decision came after President Muhammadu Buhari rejected calls for a rotating command between the partners, arguing it could hamper the counter-insurgency effort.

Buhari has made ending the six-year Islamist insurgency his top priority but since coming to power on May 29, more than 150 people have been killed in an upsurge of attacks.

In the latest sign of the need for an enhanced force against the rebels, residents said 43 people were killed in raids on three villages in Borno state in a restive northeast.

Also Read: Regional leaders meet to discuss new Boko Haram force

A final communique following three days of talks in Abuja on the remit of the new 8,700-strong force backed Buhari's stance for a Nigerian to control operations "until the end of the mission".

Cameroon will take the number two role of "deputy first commander" for an initial 12 months while a Chadian will be appointed chief of staff, again 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 coalition of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, which has claimed a series of successes against Boko Haram since February.

But there are hopes it will be more effective and deliver a hammer blow to the Islamic State-affiliated group, with at least 15 000 dead and more than 1.5 million made homeless since 2009.

Rules of engagement

The military last week announced that Major-General Tukur Buratai had taken charge of the MNJTF, which has its headquarters in Chad's capital, N'Djamena.

The headquarters will cost $30 million (27 million euros) to run in the first year.

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

"Terrorism has no frontiers and they must, because of the great implication for regional and global peace and security, be defeated," he added.

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

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

But Buhari suggested permission for operations of foreign troops on Nigerian soil was not an issue.

"On the rules of engagement, we have gone beyond that because all 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.

- Funding issue -

Buhari, an uncompromising former military ruler, has already moved the Nigerian military's command centre from Abuja to Maiduguri, in the rebels' northeastern stronghold.

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

The flurry of activity, less than two weeks into his presidency, stands in stark contrast to years of apparent inaction in tackling the group under his predecessor.

Also Read: Military top brass meet on Boko Haram

But analysts said while his proactive stance on the issue was welcomed by foreign powers who had grown weary of dealings with Jonathan's regime, Buhari had little time to act.

The MNJTF was first agreed in May last year, a month after Boko Haram shocked the world by kidnapping more than 200 schoolgirls in northeast Nigeria.

It was supposed to be operational in November 2014 but was dogged by wrangling between anglophone Nigeria and its francophone neighbours, whom it has long viewed with suspicion.

Reviving the force was brought to the fore in January, as Boko Haram hit northeast Nigeria almost daily and began to eye territorial gains in border regions of Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

Nigeria has promised $100 million for the "smooth take-off" of the MNJTF, Buhari said on Thursday, but added that longer-term funding was still a "major issue".

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

They also "resolved to seek the support of strategic partners, notably (the) European Union, France, United Kingdom and United States of America in favour of the MNJTF".



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