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US, Nigerian army to tackle Islamists

06 June 2012, 11:55

 Washington - The United States plans to work with the Nigerian army to help it combat the threat of the Islamist group Boko Haram which is spreading violence in the west African nation, officials said on Tuesday.

But Washington has still not decided whether to put the group on a blacklist of terrorist organisations - even as gunfire and explosions erupted in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri on Tuesday.

"This is an issue of ongoing internal deliberations within the United States government," Assistant Secretary of African Affairs Johnnie Carson said after two days of high-level talks with Nigerian officials in the US capital.

The administration was "trying to make a decision which is both appropriate, rational and useful" while "taking into account the significance of any decision that we might make on Nigeria and the Nigerian government".

Maiduguri is at the centre of Boko Haram's insurgency, which has claimed more than 1 000 lives since mid-2009.

Boko Haram claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing of UN headquarters in Abuja in August which killed at least 25 people.

Its deadliest attack yet occurred in January in the northern city of Kano, when co-ordinated bombings and shootings left at least 185 people dead.

But its attacks have grown increasingly sophisticated and have affected a wider geographical area, spreading from their base in the extreme northeast across the wider north and down to the capital Abuja.

The talks - held as part of the US-Nigeria Binational Commission - focused on governance, security cooperation, energy and investment and food security.

Repeated scenes of violence

Opening the talks on Monday, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns said the US was "ready to explore a potential partnership with the Nigerian army to build its civil affairs capacity".

"We are all disturbed by the repeated scenes of violence in various parts of Nigeria which threaten to undercut the gains Nigeria has made," he said.

"Violent extremist militants like those associated with Boko Haram offer no practical programme to improve the lives on Nigerians. They depend on resentment and neglect."

Without providing concrete details of what such a partnership with the Nigerian military could look like, Carson said the US experience in other areas of conflict could help in combating the situation in Nigeria.

"We have some degree of knowledge of experience or expertise as a result of the concerns that we have faced over the past decade in both Iraq and Afghanistan dealing with symmetrical warfare, dealing with IEDs, dealing with assassination, dealing with urban conflict and dealing with groups that have broken down into small cells," he said.

"And we are prepared to share with the government some of the lessons that we have learned in our own experience."

Nigerian permanent secretary Martin Uhomoibhi told the gathering that "the implications of Boko Haram are not tied down to just Nigeria, but to terrorism globally and what terrorism means to democratic nations.

"So the United States will work with Nigeria to address this security challenge because once it is done for Nigeria, it will also have very positive implications for the entire west African region."



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