AMERICAN troops are to begin conducting surveillance and intelligence operations against Boko Haram within Nigeria in a dramatic escalation of Washington’s war against the terrorist sect.
Last week, US president Barack Obama ordered the immediate deployment of 300 US troops to neighbouring Cameroon to help Nigeria in its ongoing war with Boko Haram terrorists who are fighting the government. These US troops were being sent to provide intelligence to the multi-national task force being set up to fight Boko Haram comprised of troops from Nigeria, Niger Republic, Cameroon, Chad and Benin Republic.
According to US officials, the soldiers, equipped with Predator drones will initially be deployed to the city of Garoua in northern Cameroon not far from the Nigerian border. However, in a stepping up of the ante, the soldiers are now going to be deployed within Nigeria to assist the Nigerian Army.
One US official said: “This is going to be part of our Boko Haram efforts operating throughout the region. It will not include boots on the ground or offensive combat but will see US military operations against Boko Haram in Nigeria for the first time. It is surveillance and intelligence gathering, not anything offensive.”
So far, 90 of the US personnel deployed have already been sent to Cameroon with the remaining 210 expected to join them soon. However, the White House has been at pains to stress that personnel would not take part in combat operations and would only be armed only for self-defence.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has greeted that announcement as a welcome development. Since assuming office in May, President Buhari has vowed to end the Boko Haram violence that has killed scores and spooked much-needed international investors.
Up until now, Washington has largely shied away from engaging its vast military assets to combat Boko Haram, with policymakers wary of fuelling militant recruitment or fusing the group’s ties with Middle Eastern Islamists. However, there are now growing fears that a once regional Muslim anti-colonial movement is metastasising into a regional jihadist threat, so US officials think it must up the ante.