Rifts Between U.S. and Nigeria Impeding Fight Against Boko Haram

Helene Cooper, New York Times, January 24, 2015

Relations between American military trainers and specialists advising the Nigerian military in the fight against Boko Haram are so strained that the Pentagon often bypasses the Nigerians altogether, choosing to work instead with security officials in the neighboring countries of Chad, Cameroon and Niger, according to defense officials and diplomats.

Major rifts like these between the Nigerian and American militaries have been hampering the fight against Boko Haram militants as they charge through northern Nigeria, razing villages, abducting children and forcing tens of thousands of people to flee.

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But American officials are wary of the Nigerian military as well, citing corruption and sweeping human rights abuses by its soldiers. American officials are hesitant to share intelligence with the Nigerian military because they contend it has been infiltrated by Boko Haram, an accusation that has prompted indignation from Nigeria.

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The United States was so concerned about Boko Haram infiltration that American officials have not included raw data in intelligence they have provided Nigeria, worried that their sources would be compromised.

In retaliation, Nigeria in December canceled the last stage of American training of a newly created Nigerian Army battalion. There has been no resumption of the training since then.

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The tensions have been mounting for years. In their battle against Boko Haram, Nigerian troops have rounded up and killed young men in northern cities indiscriminately, rampaged through neighborhoods and, according to witnesses and local officials, killed scores of civilians in a retaliatory massacre in a village in 2013.

Refugees said the soldiers set fire to homes, shot residents and caused panicked people to flee into the waters of Lake Chad, where some drowned.

Last summer, the United States blocked the sale of American-made Cobra attack helicopters to Nigeria from Israel, amid concerns about Nigeria’s protection of civilians when conducting military operations. That further angered the Nigerian government, and Nigeria’s ambassador to the United States responded sharply, accusing Washington of hampering the effort.

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All the while, Boko Haram has continued its ruthless push through Nigeria, bombing schools and markets, torching thousands of buildings and homes, and kidnapping hundreds of people.

Now stretching into its sixth year, the militant group’s insurgency has left thousands of people dead, the overwhelming majority of them civilians. It killed an estimated 2,000 civilians in the first six months of 2014 alone, Human Rights Watch said, and many of Nigeria’s major cities–Abuja, Kano, Kaduna–have been bombed.

American officials say that while it is unclear exactly how much territory Boko Haram effectively controls in Nigeria, the group is, at the very least, conducting attacks across almost 20 percent of the country.

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Even before the Nigerians canceled the training program in December, American military officials were stewing when soldiers showed up without proper equipment. Given the nation’s oil wealth, the Americans attributed the deficits to chronic corruption on the part of Nigerian commanders, saying that they had pocketed the money meant for their soldiers.

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