Monday, March 07, 2016

WEST AFRICA - Freeing Hostages

"Cameroon, Nigeria join forces to free Boko Haram hostages" PBS NewsHour 2/29/2016


SUMMARY:  Hundreds of hostages held by the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram were freed over the weekend after a joint raid by Cameroonian and Nigerian forces.  The raid followed increased U.S. military efforts to cooperate with regional governments against the jihadist group, which has killed more than 20,000 people over the last six years.  Gwen Ifill talks to special correspondent Nick Schifrin for more.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Over the weekend, several hundred hostages of the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram were freed.  It happened during a raid by Nigerian and Cameroonian forces along the border between the two African nations.

The raid comes as the U.S. military has moved to increase cooperation with regional governments to fight the jihadist group.  Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, or ISIS, last year.  According to Amnesty International, the six-year uprising has killed more than 20,000 people.  Another 2.8 million have been forced from their homes in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad.

Boko Haram gained worldwide infamy in 2014 after kidnapping more than 200 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in Northeastern Nigeria.  That sparked a global campaign to free the girls, with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls as a social media rallying cry.  The girls’ plight was a contributing factor to then-President Goodluck Jonathan’s election loss last year.

The U.S. has military personnel operating a new drone base in Cameroon to provide intelligence. And there is now discussion of sending American special forces near the front lines of Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram.  They would advise the military in its operations.

I’m joined now by special correspondent Nick Schifrin.  He’s currently on assignment for us in Nairobi, Kenya, and he reported in-depth from Nigeria for the “NewsHour” last year.

Nick, it’s good to talk to you again.

So, tell us what you know about this new U.S. engagement in Nigeria.

NICK SCHIFRIN (NewsHour):  Yes, Gwen, good evening.

There’s a new recommendation by the U.S. military’s top Africa Command that one to three dozen special operations forces troops be deployed to Northeastern Nigeria.  This is what the military calls an advise-and-assist mission.

They are towards the front lines, but not really on the front lines, advising the Nigerian military in their fight, assisting that fight, things like intelligence and training those troops.  Now, this is just a recommendation right now.  This will have to go through the State Department and the Pentagon and the White House.

But this is what the military in Africa wants.  And it’s what one military official describes as a national progression to a real escalation in what the U.S. has been doing against Boko Haram and helping the Nigerians.  The first step in that is intelligence.  There’s a new drone base in nearby Northern Cameroon.  Predator drones have been supplying the Nigerian and the countries all along the Lake Chad Basin with imagery, with intelligence, so they can go after Boko Haram.

That’s new in the last few months.  And just in the last few years, the U.S. has resumed a training mission in Northwestern Nigeria.  That is for Nigerian special forces far from the front line.  That’s a mission the U.S. has really been trying to resume after it ended about a year ago.

And, Gwen this is in addition to real concerted effort diplomatically to try and help the Nigerians improve things like the police. So, this is a real escalation in the U.S. helping Nigeria and all the countries fighting Boko Haram.

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