US Contemplates Drone Strikes in Nigeria as Al-Qaeda now trains Boko Haram
As the shadowy Boko Haram insurgency continues to wreck havoc in northern Nigeria, the United States is contemplating launching drone airstrikes inside Nigeria amid reports that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have been training Boko Haram
militants, a senior US Counter-terrorism official who was briefed on the plan confided to Huhuonline.com http://Huhuonline.com/ in New York, USA.
'Two years ago, after its leader was killed, Boko Haram was on the verge of extinction, but today they strike at the landmarks of Nigerian military power using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that bear the hallmarks of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,' the official told Huhuonline.com, adding: 'in the past two years, Boko Haram has met and trained with Al Qaeda affiliates outside Nigeria, including the al-Shabab terror group of Somalia and the group has begun waging a propaganda campaign that includes conference calls with journalists - another sign of its growing sophistication.'
According to the source, this link-up between Nigeria's fundamentalist Islamic sect, Boko Haram and al Qaeda is sending jitters down the spine of Western governments, giving the Nigerian government's demonstrated incapacity to handle the rising insurgency. 'The Nigerian government appears to have only a shaky grasp of how to confront the threat, responding with such a broad, harsh crackdown involving soldiers that many residents now see the military as more of a danger than Boko Haram; residents are fleeing the military crackdown,' the source noted.
Nigerian Defence and Intelligence officials were briefed of the disturbing situation by the top US Military Commander for Africa, Gen. Carter Ham, who told the Associated Press (AP) after a visit to Nigeria last week that there were 'multiple sources' showing that Boko Haram was co-ordinating its efforts with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Shabab. A source who attended the briefing quoted Gen. Ham as saying that Nigeria has now become the new battle front in the global war on terror. 'We understand that parts of northern Nigeria are pretty similar to Afghanistan; the US is therefore willing and ready to put its unique capabilities and experience to help the Nigerian government defeat the terrorists and crush the Boko Haram insurgency.'
The planned US operations will involve a strategic network of flexible military bases with very few permanently stationed troops but with the infrastructure to rapidly launch major operations, including flying US surveillance aircraft across the Sahara desert and sending Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) into Nigerian airspace from strategically placed "jumping off points" in military bases from Djibouti or Dakar (Senegal), which is the latest focal point of the Pentagon in West Africa.Already, the US has achieved a wide range of concessions at a Dakar airfield, which already has been used as a landing point for several US military operations in West Africa. These include the large-scale operation in Liberia, but also smaller missions as under the last coup attempt in neighboring Mauritania. Analysts note that under President Abdoulaye Wade, Senegal has made a major strategic alliance shift from France towards the US. Huhuonline.com learnt from high ranking US military officers that SÃ£o TomÃ© and PrÃncipe is likely to become the next US military base, from where the "US military could monitor the movement of oil tankers and protect oil platforms." The small archipelago - an upcoming oil producer - is strategically placed in the Gulf of Guinea, sub-Saharan Africa's major oil producing area.
Also the bases in Djibouti and Senegal are strategically place to protect US oil interests. Djibouti is located at the narrow Bab el Mandeb Strait at the entrance of the Red Sea, at the "world's busiest shipping lanes and close to Arabian oilfields," according to the CIA. Senegal, at the West African coast is strategically placed in a region with intensive oil explorations, which the US hopes may become a new major oil supplier within some years.
Already, about 140 people have died in the violence since January, according to Amnesty International, including dozens of civilians killed by the military. Most of Boko Haram's attacks have occurred in the northern city of Maiduguri at the edge of the Sahara desert, but there have also been blasts farther south in Kaduna and outside the national police headquarters in the capital, Abuja.
US intelligence and counter-terrorism officials and analysts have expressed grave concern that Islamic extremists bent on jihad are spreading their reach across the African continent and planting roots in a major, Western-allied state like Nigeria; hitherto not seen as a hotbed of global terrorism. It might sound far-fetched to say this, but the sad truth is that security situation in northern Nigeria and the perennial low intensity conflict in the restive Niger Delta is forcing Nigerian defence and intelligence officials to re-consider their strategic options including allowing a significant US military presence under the guise of AFRICOM which Abuja had vehemently condemned and opposed requests for it to be head-quartered in Nigeria.
Aso Rock sources told Huhuonline.com that Washington is pressuring Abuja to consider hosting the administrative headquarters of AFRICOM (expected to go operational next October) as a strategic decision of choice and Pentagon officials have been emphasizing the humanitarian role the command will play, downplaying AFRICOM's involvement in military co-operation and on training African security forces to deal with terrorism and other concerns. This could, for example, enable the African Union's (AU) African Standby Force (ASF) to intervene more effectively in conflicts, or help Nigerian security forces prevent militants from disrupting oil flow in the troubled Niger Delta.
President Goodluck Jonathan has already been briefed about the planned US operations, but he is expecting a report from his security team before making a decision whether or not to allow US Drones and airplanes to fly at will into Nigerian airspace and hit suspected terrorist targets as they currently do in Pakistan. Of course, the Americans have made a very tempting offer that Nigerian might not be able to refuse. The Pentagon is proposing a military pact involving a huge aid package worth billions of US dollars to help modernize the Nigerian military as the US hopes to develop into the principal military partner of Nigeria.
President Jonathan has to make a strategic choice between what American officials portray as a simple organizational realignment of Washington's latest military oversight structure for Africa, and what many Nigerian and African observers see as the start of an increased US military presence in Africa to secure resources, check China's rising power and bolster counter-terrorism efforts.