Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan Wants U.S. Troops to Fight Boko Haram

Good luck Jonathan Says Militants Have Ties to Islamic State

Wall Street Journal

ABUJA, Nigeria—With his oil-powered economy faltering and just five weeks to go before he faces a close election, Nigerian President Good luck Jonathan is appealing to the U.S. to send combat troops against his country’s most intractable problem: the Islamist insurgency Boko Haram.

President Good luck Jonathan said Friday that he has asked the U.S. military to dispatch troops to northern Nigeria, the region where Islamist militants have captured territory, suggesting that Boko Haram had established links with Islamic State.

In his first interview with western media this year, and five weeks before he faces a closely fought election, Mr.Jonathan said he has been asking the U.S. since early 2014 to send combat soldiers along with military advisers to Nigeria to battle Boko Haram. The Nigerian president, citing intelligence reports, also suggested that the militants had forged ties to Islamic State, the jihadist group whose leadership is based in Iraq and Syria.

“Are they not fighting ISIS? Why can’t they come to Nigeria?” he said, referring to the U.S. aerial campaign against Islamic State. “Look, they are our friends. If Nigeria has a problem, then I expect the U.S. to come and assist us.”

The U.S. maintains a drone base in Chad from which it conducts surveillance flights to monitor Boko Haram. It has also provided training and some equipment to the Nigerian military. Some U.S. legislators have called for deeper involvement. Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.), at a congressional hearing last month, called for deploying U.S. Special Forces against Boko Haram.

The Islamist sect was still fighting with bows and arrows when Mr. Jonathan inherited the presidency in 2010, upon the death of his predecessor. After nearly six years of raiding military bases and police stations, Boko Haram now is equipped with tanks, armored personnel carriers and antiaircraft guns. It also draws on a deep pool of young recruits, often forcibly abducted from the villages of Nigeria’s northeast.

Almost 20,000 people have died in the conflict, according to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. The fighting–frequently involving Boko Haram slaughtering villagers and burning down their homes–has displaced some 1.5 million people. By the end of last year, Boko Haram occupied a swath of Nigeria the size of Belgium.

Lately, the momentum has shifted against the militants. Troops from Chad have entered Nigeria, chasing after Boko Haram and freeing up the Nigerian army to pursue the militants into their strongholds. Within six to eight weeks, the president said “we will be able to take over all the territories that they are holding.”

But that, he said, could open up a new, less predictable phase of the conflict–one he still wants U.S. troops to play a role in. To bolster his case, he said Boko Haram is receiving training and funds from ISIS.

“They are providing them with training and funds,” he said. “You can see what ISIS is doing to powerful countries like U.S. and others who have even come together to face them. Boko Haram, Nigeria has been facing alone.”

Islamic State has accepted pledges of allegiance from far-flung affiliates in Egypt, North Africa, Yemen and Pakistan, but so far hasn’t established a formal relationship with Boko Haram. The degree of cooperation between Islamic State’s leadership and these affiliates varies, but rarely goes beyond cooperation in propaganda and some financing.

U.S. officials have said they see mutual admiration between the two groups but suspect ISIS is reluctant to partner with Boko Haram.

Nigerian President wants U.S. troops to fight Boko Haram

Joeva Rock
PhD Student, Department of Anthropology
American University