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Fighting Boko Haram: multinational force to deploy 8700 troops in Northern Nigeria

The presidents of Nigeria and Cameroon tried to overcome their divisions over a multinational force created to fight Boko Haram on Thursday but the talks stalled over issues including the troops' right to cross-border pursuit.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, making his first trip to Cameroon since coming to power in March, and Cameroonian leader Paul Biya voiced support for the planned multinational task force but did not say when it would become operational.

The force was set to launch operations by the end of July.

When the talks wrapped up on Thursday, the two leaders made pledges to improve intelligence-sharing on Boko Haram and security cooperation along their shared border.

Boko Haram, which has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State militant group, launched a wave of attacks in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger over the past two months killing hundreds of people. The onslaught followed a military campaign by regional powers that swept Boko Haram out of the towns of northeast Nigeria earlier this year.

The planned 8,700-strong task force of troops from Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin was supposed to start operations from July 31, but has been dogged by lack of funding and political will.

In a step toward in activating the force, Nigeria announced the appointment Thursday of Major General Iliya Abbah as its commander, but major military operations still appear unlikely before the end of the rainy season in September.

While the meeting appeared to soothe tensions between the two neighbours, analysts said the outcome was vague on the specifics of military cooperation.

“We must remember that it’s not the first time that the two countries have promised to share intelligence,” said Raoul Sumo Tayo, a Cameroonian political analyst.

A summit on Boko Haram in May 2014 in Paris produced a similar pledge.

In the past, Abuja has accused Yaounde of dragging its feet over tackling Boko Haram, which analysts say established rear bases on the Cameroonian side of the Mandara mountains.

Cameroon in turn has complained that its efforts to combat Boko Haram have been hampered by Nigeria’s refusal to grant its forces the right to pursue the militants onto its soil.

“The big disappointment was that the Cameroonian and Nigerian heads of state did not discuss the right of pursuit,” Sumo Tayo said.

The joint task force, once operational, would have that right, officials say.

Buhari told Cameroonian state television that the African nations were expecting Western countries to provide training and equipment. The UN Security Council on Tuesday urged donors to back the campaign against Boko Haram.

Biya, in power since 1982, did not attend Buhari’s inauguration and the Nigerian leader’s trip comes nearly two months after he visited neighbouring Chad and Niger. In a tentative sign of warming relations, the two leaders agreed to meet again in Nigeria, though no date was set.

In northeast Nigeria, suspected Boko Haram fighters killed at least 12 people and torched houses in a raid on the village of Yadin Kukuwa Tasha, about 30 km (20 miles) from the Yobe state capital Damaturu on Thursday morning, villagers said.

“They started firing guns, burning houses and looting food items,” said Musa Adamu, a farmer who said he escaped by running into the surrounding bush.

The raid was the sixth attack in Yobe state this month. Yobe borders Niger and neighbours Borno state, whose main city of Maiduguri has been the hardest hit by insurgents in the last few weeks.

Boko Haram took over Yadin Kukuwa Tasha and its surrounding areas for nearly two months earlier this year until the army pushed the militants out in March.


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