Ahead of its annual two-day summit, the African Union (AU) has endorsed a West African plan for 7,500 troops to fight against Boko Haram. The Islamist militants have killed more than 13,000 people since 2009.
The four countries directly affected by Boko Haram - Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad - as well as neighboring Benin, agreed to boost cooperation to contain the Islamist threat and to form a Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF).
"We are thinking of a force of 7,500 women and men. The next step is to submit [approval] to the United Nations (UN) Security Council," Smail Chergui, the commissioner of the AU's Peace and Security Council, told reporters on Friday.
Chergui added that the African group also plans to meet next week in Cameroon to draw up a "concept of operations" to cover strategy, rules of engagement, command and control.
"Hopefully now with this concept, this force will be better organized and we can achieve the goal that we are looking for, that is to really stop the killing and these barbaric acts of Boko Haram," Chergui said.
Alongside tackling the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, defeating Boko Haram was at the top of the agenda at the two-day annual summit of the 54-nation bloc, which began in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa on Friday.
"Boko Haram's horrendous abuses, unspeakable cruelty, total disregard for human lives and wanton destruction of property are unmatched," AU Commission Chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said in a statement ahead of Friday's summit.
According to Reuters news agency, each of the five nations involved in the MNJTF would contribute a battalion, with each contingent based within its national borders and operations coordinated from Chad's capital N'Djamena.
The Boko Haram group, based in Nigeria, has killed more than 13,000 people and left more than one million homeless during its five-and-a-half-year campaign to establish an 'Islamic State' in Africa. The Islamist militants have also been recruiting fighters in neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
ksb/gsw (Reuters, AFP)