Nigerian general leads joint action against Boko Haram

Multinational task force will deploy 8,700 troops to fight group behind bloody attacks

ABUJA • Nigeria has appointed a general to lead a new multinational task force created to fight Boko Haram Islamists, in the face of increasingly bloody attacks.

Major-General Iliya Abbah, who previously commanded military operations in the oil-rich Niger Delta, will head the five-nation force, Nigerian military spokesman Chris Olukolade said yesterday.

The Multinational Joint Task Force - made up of 8,700 troops from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin - is expected to be more effective than a current alliance in the battle to end Boko Haram's six-year insurgency, which has claimed some 15,000 lives.

Until his appointment, Maj-Gen Abbah, a Muslim from the country's north, served as military secretary in the army, Maj-Gen Olukolade said. He had also been part of a contingent involved in peacekeeping operations in Sudan's West Darfur region, said one of his close friends.

Maj-Gen Olukolade said on Tuesday that the new regional force was expected to go into action "any moment from now", but he did not specify when.

Boko Haram has stepped up its attacks since President Muhammadu Buhari took office in May, unleashing a wave of violence that has claimed 800 lives in two months.

A Nigerian girl holding an injured child rescued from Boko Haram insurgents during a military operation at Dikwa in the country's north-east on Tuesday. Some 15,000 people have died since the extremists launched their offensive in 2009. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Boko Haram has stepped up its attacks since President Muhammadu Buhari took office in May, unleashing a wave of violence that has claimed 800 lives in two months.

The task force will be headquartered in Chad's capital, N'Djamena, but few other details have emerged, raising concerns that its deployment could face delays.

Mr Buhari is currently in neighbouring Cameroon for talks on how to combat the escalating regional threat from Boko Haram.

Nigeria said Mr Buhari's talks with Cameroon President Paul Biya were part of ongoing efforts "to build a more effective regional coalition against Boko Haram".

The extremist movement launched an armed insurgency in 2009, claiming that it wants to found a strict Islamic caliphate in and around north-eastern Nigeria.

Its name loosely translates as "Western education is forbidden".

Since taking office, Mr Buhari has also visited Chad and Niger, which have suffered from attacks by the militants too and have sent troops to take part in counter-operations.

Mr Buhari is expected to visit Benin tomorrow. Benin is a small country on Nigeria's western border, while Cameroon lies to the east, and Chad and Niger are northern neighbours.

On Tuesday, Nigeria's army said it had liberated 21 children, seven women and two men held hostage by the militants, during ongoing offensives in the north-east.

The movement also forces women and teenage girls to become suicide bombers. In the past eight days, such bombers have killed at least 47 people during attacks on crowded places at towns in Nigeria and Cameroon.

Yesterday, it was reported that Boko Haram attacked villages near Baga on Lake Chad in north-eastern Nigeria, using knives to slit the throats of 10 fishermen.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2015, with the headline 'Nigerian general leads joint action against Boko Haram'. Subscribe