The presidents of Nigeria and Cameroon have announced that they will be launching a multinational army to attack and eradicate the Boko Haram militant group. Chad, Benin and Niger will also be committing troops.
The announcement came after meetings between Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and Cameroonian President Paul Biya in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon. Cameroon becomes the fourth country to commit to the African Union-mandated Multi-National Joint Task Force after Buhari inked similar agreements with Chad and Niger. Buhari plans to visit Benin seeking a similar agreement.
In a joint statement, the presidents stated “their common determination to eradicate Boko Haram… and agreed to intensify the exchange of information between the two countries.”
They added that the two countries will also be building up the number of forces patrolling their shared border. Buhari also spoke of a lack of resources in the funding necessary to get the force off the ground.
Asked when the new regional would be deployed, Buhari answered: “It should ready today or tomorrow, by the end of this month.”
But he added: “After the promises of G7 countries to help the region defeat Boko Haram, we are waiting for training, equipment and intelligence assistance.”
The Nigerian military announced Thursday that Major-General Iliya Abbah has been appointed to head the five-nation force. The general previously commanded military forces fighting rebels in the oil-rich Niger Delta. The force will be headquartered in N’Djamena, Chad.
Buhari’s predecessor Goodluck Jonathan attempted to put together a multinational force last year but one did not materialize. Buhari was elected partly on his promise of beating Boko Haram. Just last month Buhari sacked most of the military chiefs who led the fight under Jonathan. Many observers saw this as good first step.
“What the Nigerian military has been weak at doing, and I think the Boko Haram insurgency has exposed this, is dealing with asymmetrical war,” said Manji Cheto, vice president of Teneo Intelligence, a risk analysis organization in London.
Asymmetrical war refers to small groups who use nonconventional weapons and tactics like terrorism against a larger, more conventional military force. According to Cheto, the best weapon against such tactics is intelligence gathering, something the Nigerian military, and many of its neighbors, do not have a good track record in.
“The challenge for the Nigerian military and the multinational task force going forward is how to actually build intelligence to deal with asymmetrical warfare,” Cheto added.
The outgoing Nigerian chief of defense staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh also came out recently with strong criticisms of the army in the fight against Boko Haram. He said the army was underfunded and that morale was low. While not naming names, Badeh said that persons within the military leaked valuable information to the enemy, resulting in many soldiers being killed.
“I was head of a military that lacked the relevant equipment and motivation to fight an enemy that was invisible and embedded with the local populace,” Badeh said.
Cheto points out that even with a viable and strong multinational force, the military alone cannot beat Boko Haram.
“Nigeria will still have to deal with underlying causes of terrorism: social justice issues, underemployment and poverty in the region. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of trying to deal with the longer-term issues that have resulted in the rise of terrorism in the region,” she said.
Regional militaries have announced some small victories this week amid news of continuing kidnappings, suicide attacks and killings by Boko Haram. Nigeria recently announced that soldiers rescued 71 Boko Haram captives, mostly all girls and women, in battles with militants and successfully destroyed militant camps in three villages in the northeast of the country.
The Chadian military announced that their forces killed 117 militants over the past two weeks as they continue to capture or kill militants hiding out on islands on Lake Chad. Two Chadian soldiers were killed in the operations and two injured.
Even with the victories, suicide bombers continue to attack civilians. A female suicide bomber killed six people Friday at a market in Maiduguri, the largest city in northeast Nigeria. This brought to almost 50 the number of civilians killed over the past week in Nigeria and Cameroon.
A bomb disposal expert told AP the suicide bombers, many of them young girls or women, have explosives strapped to them that are remotely detonated.