Abuja - The U.S. administration is seeking to approve a sale of as many as 12 A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft to Nigeria to aid its battle against the extremist group Boko Haram, U.S. officials say, in a vote of confidence in President Muhammadu Buhari’s drive to reform the country’s corruption-tainted military.
Washington also is dedicating more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to the campaign against the Islamist militants in the region and plans to provide additional training to Nigerian infantry forces, the officials told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the administration’s plans.
The possible sale — which the officials said was favoured within the U.S. administration but is subject to review by Congress — underscores the deepening U.S. involvement in helping governments in North and West Africa fight extremist groups.
U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Michael Franken, a deputy commander of the Pentagon’s Africa Command, told a Washington forum last week that there now are 6,200 U.S. troops – most of them Special Operations Forces – operating from 26 locations on the continent.
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The widening U.S. military cooperation is a political victory for Buhari, who took office last year pledging to crack down on the rampant corruption that has undermined the armed forces in Africa’s most populous country.
“The Buhari administration I think has really reenergized the bilateral relationship in a fundamental way,” one U.S. official said.
The previous Nigerian government of Goodluck Jonathan had scorned the United States for blocking arms sales partly because of human rights concerns. It also criticized Washington for failing to speed the sharing of intelligence.
The souring relations hit a low at the end of 2014 when U.S. military training of Nigerian forces was abruptly halted.
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That is changing under Buhari, whose crackdown on corruption has led to a raft of charges against top national security officials in the previous government.
“Buhari made clear from the get-go that his number one priority was reforming the military to defeat Boko Haram … And he sees us as part of that solution,” a second U.S. official said.