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US 'training forces' to fight Boko Haram

Temitope OmoladeApril 22, 2016

The US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power has pledged support to countries involved in the fight against Boko Haram Islamists. Power made the statement while in Nigeria, having visited Chad and Cameroon.

U.S. diplomat Samantha Power
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo/A. Harnik

The three countries have been battling the Islamists who have terrorized parts of northern Nigerian and neighboring Cameroon.

DW spoke to Ryan Cummings, director of the South African risk analysis group Signal Risk who believes the visit by an American top diplomat to the Lake Chad basin sends a strong signal to Boko Haram that the international community is committed to end their terrorist activities.

DW: How significant is her visit to the three countries?

Ryan Cummings: I think it's a kind of reinforcement that the United State and other foreign governments are supportive of operations that aim at uprooting the Boko Haram Islamists. I think it’s also a kind of recognition that the Boko Haram threat has evolved and expanded outside of Northeastern Nigeria and become an issue of regional propositions which needs not only a regional but an international response.

Why has the United States been reluctant to help Nigeria fight Boko Haram and instead chose to support Cameroon with 300 troops?

I think we need to look at the relations between the Nigerian and the US government. They [relations] were earlier strained during former President Goodluck Jonathan’s regime accused the US government of failing to sell the weapons that the Nigerian government needed in the fight against Boko Haram. It was stated that the US government were concerned and reluctant to sell the Nigerian military any form of weaponry due to the long standing claims of human right abuses by the army in the fight against Boko Haram and also in operations elsewhere.

When Mohammed Buhari took over the presidency; there was emphasis on looking at strengthening relations with a lot of international countries, the US being one of them.

Ryan Cummings
Ryan Cummings, director of the South African risk analysis group Signal RiskImage: privat

They are supplying armies not only to Cameroon but to Niger as well. However, these forces are not taking part in any combat operations. What they are doing is specializing in the training of counterterrorism forces of the respective countries with similar deployment taking place including to Nigeria following the Chibok kidnapping.

With a crackdown on freedom of protest and a government decision to shut down the internet and text messaging throughout Chad for several days during election time, do you think the US is in a difficult position to partner with a dictator in the fight against Boko Haram?

To a certain extent it's a difficult compromise. I think Idris Debby is an ally to many governments specifically the French. He is a key partner in fighting insecurity in the region.

During Samathan Powers' visit, President Deby said Washington and other foreign powers are partly to be blamed for the Boko Haram threat. What is your take on that?

I think it's easy to point fingers. We can look at international powers and look at foreign interventions within certain contexts and the repercussions of foreign interventions have had in facilitating the creation of groups especially the Islamic state. I find it difficult to see foreign intervention in Nigeria beyond British colonial rule as in any way influencing the development of Boko Haram

The same situation is seen in Cameroon, with Paul Biya in power for over three decades. Is the US just there to talk about the joint effort to fight Boko Haram or are they also voicing their concerns against the oppressive regime?

I think it's very much a dual approach. The United States will always have key partners across the world and specifically within the African context. These key partners need to espouse the levels of democratization that the US itself is a key custodian of and a key promoter of, and we are just not seeing that. The problem is that the reason Deby and Biya have become key partners in the fight against regional instability is because of their longevity within their specific countries. Because they have created key nexuses between various stakeholders in the region - is how they are able to ensure that they can respond to issues of insecurity.

Ryan Cummings, is the Director of the South African risk analysis group Signal Risk

Interview: Temitope Omolade