President Muhammadu Buhari predicted Tuesday that Boko Haram would be defeated by a new African force within 18 months as the World Bank said $2.1 billion in loans could be made available to rebuild areas devastated by the militants.
Buhari said in an interview with The Associated Press that the militants would be routed with the help of troops from Benin, Chad, Cameroon and Niger as part of the Multi-National Joint Task Force, which Buhari said would be ready to launch operations at the end of the month.
Boko Haram’s Islamist insurgency has killed more than 13,000 people since 2009 and displaced an estimated 1.5 million others.
“We are going to deny them recruitment. We are going to deny them free movement across borders. We are going to deny them training. We are going to deny them receiving reinforcements in terms of equipment,” said Buhari.
Boko Haram in March declared allegiance to the Islamic State group and Buhari has said it also has links with Islamist militants in northern Mali.
But he conceded that Nigerian authorities lack any new information about the hundreds of schoolgirls still missing after a mass kidnapping in the northern town of Chibok in April 2014. The abductions sparked international outrage and a global “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign that reached as far as the White House, with First Lady Michelle Obama lending her support.
Dozens of schoolgirls escaped in the days after the abduction but 219 remain missing.
“I think Nigeria will make as much sacrifice as humanly possible to get the girls back. This is our main objective,” Buhari said, a day after meeting with President Barack Obama.
Buhari said his government was even open to freeing detained militants in exchange for the girls’ freedom, but only if it can find credible Boko Haram leaders to negotiate with.
“We just can’t say yes or no in a sort of impulsive manner. We have to establish the facts before we agree” to negotiations, he said.