Lagos – Former South African Defence Force soldiers are reportedly playing a major role in the fight against Boko Haram extremists.
According to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) several ex-South African Air Force (SAAF) pilots were also participating in the war against the insurgents.
The report said the South African team together with other military experts from Britain, United States and France had contributed significantly to the recent successes of the Lake Chad Basin Commission forces against Boko Haram.
"The former SADF members are definitely playing a major role in this offensive. They have been in country for a significant time already, involved in training some specialised NDF [Nigerian Defence Forces] units," a former military intelligence was quoted as saying.
Reports in January said that the former SA soldiers were to form the core of a multinational team of private military experts to fight Boko Haram.
The report, at the time, said that the 100-strong team had been tasked with training the Nigerian military in a massive campaign against the terrorist organisation.
This came after a presidential security adviser stated that the country's campaign against Boko Haram was being hampered by "cowards" within the armed forces, signalling dissatisfaction with how the military is handling the situation.
But Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula dismissed the so called former SADF soldiers as mercenaries and said that they should be arrested when they return home.
"The police have a responsibility to ensure that, when they come back, those people are arrested and the [National Prosecutions Authority] has a responsibility to charge them. There are consequences for going out of the country and provide any form of military assistance as a mercenary, not as part of the deployment by government," Mapisa-Ngqakula was quoted as saying.
Abuja has reportedly insisted that the deal had been cleared with President Jacob Zuma and the ex-SADF soldiers now in Nigeria have likewise also insisted that their involvement was cleared at the highest echelons of the South African government, even if the defence minister did not know about it.
With presidential elections this month, an attempt is being made to push Boko Haram out of major towns before the 28 March ballot.
Boko Haram made headlines last year when it kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in April.
- News 24