U.S. mulls special ops mission to support Nigeria's Boko Haram fight

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 26, 2016 3:02 PM

By Emma Farge

DAKAR (Reuters) - The United States has offered to send a special operations mission to Nigeria to help the West African country fight Islamist militant group Boko Haram, the United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM) said on Friday.

African armies routed the militant group from much of its self-proclaimed caliphate in northeastern Nigeria last year.

But its fighters have since regrouped and intensified their attacks in the Lake Chad Basin, threatening regional security, despite the creation of a 9,000-strong African multinational task force to counter it.

"At the request of the Nigerian government, the SOCAFRICA (Special Operations Command Africa) component of USAFRICOM conducted a preliminary assessment regarding the feasibility of resuming a limited advise-and-assist mission alongside select Nigerian units," USAFRICOM said in a statement.

The statement added that the proposals envisaged a "platoon-sized" team, typically meaning a group of between 12-30 troops. The proposals are pending approval from various government departments and military officials.

The New York Times earlier reported that the advisers would be based in Maiduguri, a city in Nigeria's northeast that last month was targeted by Boko Haram suicide bombers.

In recent months, the United States has been expanding its support for African governments as they fight a growing Islamist insurgency in North and West Africa. It is near a new security deal with Senegal, and has increased the number of elite special operations forces in Africa to about 1,200.

Washington said in October it was sending 300 U.S. military personnel to Cameroon to operate surveillance drones. Cameroon's army said on Friday it killed 92 Boko Haram members during a military operation.

A Nigerian presidential source confirmed that the United States had proposed additional military assistance against Boko Haram, without giving details.

Boko Haram gained global notoriety for kidnapping more than 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria in 2014 and is thought to have killed over 15,000 people, making it the most lethal militant group in the world by some estimates.

It pledged allegiance to ultra-hardline group ISIS in 2015, raising fears that the two may start collaborating more closely.

"There is an urgent need to prevent Boko Haram from regenerating and possibly coming back more virulent, destructive, and globally connected than before," Jennifer Cooke, Africa Program Director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week.

Its Chairman Ed Royce welcomed the proposals, adding that the U.S. "can provide the high-level guidance that is crucially missing in the fight against Boko Haram."

(Additional reporting by Felix Onuah in Abuja and Warren Strobel in Washington; editing by Ralph Boulton)