- When battle is almost won
United States government is seeking to approve the sale of 12 A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft to Nigeria to aid its battle against the extremist group Boko Haram, US officials said.
The official said, while speaking on condition of anonymity, that the deal is 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 militants in the region and plans to provide additional training to Nigerian infantry forces.”
The possible sale, which the official said, was favoured within the US administration, but is subject to review by Congress underscores the deepening US 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 US troops, most of them Special Operations Forces, operating from 26 locations on the continent.
The widening US 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 reenergised the bilateral relationship in a fundamental way,” another US official said.
The previous Nigerian government of Goodluck Jonathan had scorned the US for blocking arms sales partly because of human rights concerns. It also criticised Washington for failing to speed the sharing of intelligence.
That is changing under Mr. 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 US official said.
Still, serious human rights abuses committed by security forces, which include police, increased in 2015, according to the US State Department’s annual human rights report.
Most of the funds alleged to have been misused or siphoned by corrupt Nigerian officials under Jonathan’s government, were earmarked for the fight against Boko Haram, which has killed thousands in North-East Nigeria and neighbouring countries in the last seven years.
According to an online medium, Premium Times, the aircraft that would be sold to Nigeria come with a “very basic armed configuration,” one of the US officials said.
The sale could offer Nigeria a more manoeuvrable aircraft that can stay aloft for extended periods to target Boko Haram formations.
The US officials did not disclose the cost of the planes to be sold to Nigeria.
However, a contract for 20 similar aircraft that was sold to Afghanistan was valued at about $428 million at the time it was announced in 2013.
The US military expects to train a second Nigerian infantry battalion once the current group completes its training later this year, the first official said.
The officials did not specify what type of additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets would be provided to bolster the regional fight against Boko Haram.