UK to ramp up support to Nigeria in battle against Boko Haram

Nigerien soldiers hold up a Boko Haram flag that they had seized in the recently retaken town of Damasak, Nigeria, March 18, 2015. Chadian and Nigerien soldiers took the town from Boko Haram militants earlier this week. The Nigerian army said on Tuesday it had repelled Boko Haram from all but three local government districts in the northeast, claiming victory for its offensive against the Islamist insurgents less than two weeks before a presidential election. Picture taken March 18. REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun©Reuters

Nigerian soldiers hold a Boko Haram flag they had seized in the town of Damasak in March

Britain plans to ramp up support to Nigeria’s new government in its battle with Boko Haram extremists, whose capacity to carry out cross border atrocities was driven home this week by two suicide attacks in neighbouring Chad.

Chadian officials blamed Monday’s twin bombings, which killed at least 27 people, on the Nigerian terror group, which has been stripped in recent months of much of the territory it controlled in Nigeria’s remote northeast, in part thanks to the involvement of the Chadian army.

Signalling improving ties with Nigeria since the inauguration of Muhammadu Buhari as president, James Duddridge, the UK’s Africa minister, said Britain was willing to provide more technical support, military training and increased assistance with intelligence sharing.

The development comes as the US announced this week it was providing $5m to support a multinational task force to fight Boko Haram.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Mr Duddridge said it would be “inconceivable” for the UK not to do “more in the northeast to support Nigeria”.

“We can do a lot more in terms of training and how to use . . . intelligence, that is where we really leverage our experience,” Mr Duddridge said, promising “more help on the technical side”.

“We have the intelligence sharing but [we need to train them] how to use that intelligence, how to help structure the army, how they integrate through the multinational task force,” he added.

His comments follows appeals by Mr Buhari to the G7 group of nations to step up assistance to Nigeria, which is taking command of a regional counterterror task force.

Concerns about corruption in the army, and human rights abuses in its prosecution of the war against Boko Haram, stymied US military support for the previous government of Goodluck Jonathan.

Britain trained two companies credited this year with a successful campaign to drive the extremists from territory captured in the northeastern state of Adamawa.

A British official said: “We are moving up to battalion-scale training and hope to work soon at divisional level. The inhibitors have been access and the Nigerian army’s absorption capacity, both of which we hope urgently to address with the new government.”

A resident British military team in Nigeria is already assisting the country’s forces with training and advice on counterinsurgency. The UK is also providing satellite imagery to an “intelligence fusion cell” in Abuja, where British, US and French personnel are working alongside Nigerians.

Last week, David Cameron, UK prime minister, said he was setting up a new cross-government unit to co-ordinate British support to Nigeria. In March the UK pledged £5m to support the multinational task force that includes troops from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin.

Mr Buhari, a former military leader, has made tackling the insurgency a key priority since he defeated Mr Jonathan in March. The relatively peaceful vote and transition of power in Africa’s most populous country and top oil producer was hailed as a significant stride forward for democracy on the continent.

Mr Duddridge said Mr Buhari’s election meant there was “a willingness to look [at] things afresh”, adding that there is a “reinvigorated feeling”.

British and Nigerian leaders met in London ahead of Mr Buhari’s inauguration in May. Mr Duddridge said British Foreign Office ministers would hold talks with Mr Buhari and with the UK defence ministry to “say how can we help” and “what expertise we have” to offer.



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