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Head of regional force to fight Boko Haram named

31 July 2015, 06:52

Abuja - Nigeria on Thursday named the head of a new multinational force created to fight Boko Haram jihadists carrying out a wave of attacks, as the country's outgoing defence chief of staff warned its military was underfunded and poorly equipped.

The announcement came as President Muhammadu Buhari was in Cameroon in a bid to forge a stronger regional alliance against the Islamists, while the military said it had rescued dozens of people held hostage by the militant group.

Abuja on Thursday said Major General Iliya Abbah, who previously commanded military operations in the oil-rich Niger Delta, will head the five-nation Multi-National Joint Task Force.

The force, made up of 8,700 troops from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin, is expected to be more effective than a current alliance in the battle to end Boko Haram's six-year insurgency, which has claimed some 15,000 lives.

Also Read: Badeh blames past leaders for Boko Haram reign

It is expected to go into action within days, with Buhari saying during his visit to Cameroon that it would be ready "by the end of this month".

In a joint statement after their talks in Yaounde, Buhari and Cameroon's President Paul Biya expressed "their common determination to eradicate Boko Haram... and agreed to intensify the exchange of information between the two countries".

They will also beef up security along their shared border, the statement added.

The regional task force will be headquartered in Chad's capital N'Djamena, but few other specific details have emerged, raising concerns that its deployment may face delays.

Abbah, a Muslim from the north, previously served as the army's military secretary, where he was responsible for promotions, postings and retirements, and was also part of Nigeria's contingent to peacekeeping operations in Sudan's troubled western Darfur region.

'Invisible enemy'

Despite the creation of the multinational force, the outgoing chief of defence staff warned on Thursday that the country's military "lacked the relevant equipment and motivation to fight an enemy that was invisible and embedded with the local populace".

In a speech to mark his retirement after he was sacked by Buhari this month, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh said Nigeria's forces were "neglected and underequipped to ensure the survival of certain regimes, while other regimes, based on advice from some foreign nations, deliberately reduced the size of the military and underfunded it".

He did not elaborate on which regimes or foreign countries he was referring to.

Buhari dismissed Badeh and the entire military top brass who served under his predecessor as president Goodluck Jonathan in a demonstration of the newly-elected leader's quest for a fresh start in the battle against Boko Haram.

Also Read: Nigeria, Cameroon vow to step up co-operation against Boko Haram

The president, in his remarks in Cameroon, also complained of a lack of resources, saying: "After the promises of G7 countries to help the region defeat Boko Haram, we are waiting for training, equipment and intelligence assistance."

Buhari visited Washington last week but returned empty-handed because the United States is prohibited by law from sending weapons to countries that fail to tackle human rights abuses, a stance the Nigerian leader said was helping Boko Haram.

Boko Haram has stepped up its attacks since Buhari took office in May, unleashing a wave of violence that has claimed more than 800 lives in just two months.

In another gruesome attack reported Thursday, Boko Haram militants slit the throats of 10 fishermen in villages on the shores of Lake Chad in northeastern Nigeria on Monday, a fisherman and a resident told AFP.

Buhari's regional diplomacy

The extremist group, whose name loosely translates as "Western education is forbidden", launched their armed insurgency in 2009 and claim to want to found a strict Islamic caliphate in and around northeastern Nigeria.

Since taking office, Buhari has also visited Chad and Niger, which have also suffered from attacks by the Islamist fighters and sent troops to take part in operations.

Buhari is expected to visit Benin, a small country on thewestern border, on Saturday after his return from Cameroon.

The army, meanwhile, said it had rescued 59 people held hostage by Boko Haram in the country's restive northeast, including 29 women and 25 children.

Mallam Modu Goni, one of the hostages rescued, said a large number of militants had abducted him and several fellow villagers last week, and that he was forced to go "several days without food before the army rescued us yesterday".

Earlier this week, the army said it had freed 30 other hostages, including 21 children.

Boko Haram has abducted thousands of civilians, including children, in raids on villages and towns inside Nigeria and abroad. Non-Muslims are forcibly converted to Islam.

The movement has also forced young teenage girls and women to become suicide bombers.

In the past eight days alone, such bombers have killed at least 47 people in attacks at crowded places, including a market and a popular bar, in towns in both Nigeria and Cameroon.



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