by Hauwa Gambo
The United States has begun to take Nigeria’s Boko Haram a bit more seriously it appears, with drones stationed in Niamey, Niger Republic to monitor insurgents in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.
It will be recalled that the Nigerian government had deployed thousands of troops to those states after the declared State of Emergency on 14 May, 2013.
According to Punch, “A top intelligence official, who declined to be named due to the sensitive nature of the issue, told Saturday PUNCH that US drones had been spying on Boko Haram bases in the forests and plains around Nigeria’s borders with Niger, Chad and Cameroon.”
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The source said this was part of assistance provided by the US Government, in its bid to destroy terror bases in West and North Africa.
The security official did not, however, give further details of the spying mission as well as other aspects of US military assistance to the campaign against Boko Haram.
“Yes, it is true. We have got assistance from the United States, including what you mentioned,” he stated.
US President Barack Obama had in February announced that 100 American troops were being sent to the drone base in the Nigerien capital.
The drones had been deployed in missions against Islamist extremists in Mali but may their area of coverage may have now been extended to cover Niger’s border with Nigeria.
Nigerien President Issoufou Mahamadou had told the Associated Press in January that his government invited Washington to send surveillance drones because he was worried that the country might not be able to defend its borders from Islamist fighters based in Mali, Libya or Nigeria.
“We welcome the drones,” Mahamadou said in an interview at the presidential palace in Niamey. Citing the “feeble capability” of many west African militaries, he said Niger and its neighbours desperately needed foreign help to track the movements of guerrillas across the Sahara and Sahel, an arid territorial belt that covers much of the region.
“Our countries are like the blind leading the blind,” he said. “We rely on countries like France and the United States. We need co-operation to ensure our security.”
The Predator drones in Niger are unarmed, US officials said, though they have not ruled out equipping the aircraft with Hellfire missiles in the future.
The US Embassy in Niamey, Niger Republic did not respond to an email on the matter.
When contacted, spokesman for Nigeria’s Defence Headquarters, Brig-Gen. Chris Olukolade, denied any collaboration with the US in the campaign.
He said, “This is solely a Nigerian planned operation and we are doing it our own way. This operation is our own and we are doing it in line with best practices. It is Nigerian designed and executed.”
Meanwhile, Nigerian security agents may join the ongoing investigation of two British men, who hacked a soldier to death on Wednesday in Woolwich, United Kingdom.
The two British-born suspects of Nigerian origin, Michael Adebolajo, 28, and Michael Adebowale, 22, are under guard in hospitals after being shot and arrested by police after the murder of 25-year-old Afghan war veteran Lee Rigby on Wednesday in Woolwich in broad daylight. They have not yet been charged.
UK detectives are trying to determine whether the suspects had links to militants in Britain or overseas.
Sources familiar with the investigation have said no sign has emerged so far of direct links between the attack and the Boko Haram insurgency.
British investigators are looking at information that at least one of the suspects may have had an interest in joining Somalia-based Islamist rebel group al Shabaab, which is allied to al Qaeda and Boko Haram, a source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
A senior State Security Service official told one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity on Thursday that although a request had yet to be received from UK authorities, security agents would be ready to aid the investigation of the alleged killer’s possible links to Boko Haram and other terror groups.
He said it was still early for such a request to be sent to Nigeria but noted that the agency was following developments on the matter closely.
Attempts to obtain comments from the SSS spokesperson, Ms. Marilyn Ogar, were unsuccessful as she did not respond to calls to her phone.
Deputy Force Public Relations Officer, Mr. Frank Mba, asid, “We will not discuss that. Talk to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
Spokesman for the British High Commission, Robert Fitzpatrick, declined to comment on the matter. He said since British Prime Minister, David Cameron, had issued a statement, there was nothing more to add.
Also speaking, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Ogbole Ahmedu-Ode, said, “Those two are of British nationals but of Nigerian ancestry. I am not aware of any request from the British Government on their roots in Nigeria.”