President Barack Obama told Congress on Friday that he will send 300 US troops to Cameroon. The troops will play a non-combat role in the war against Boko Haram. That war is currently led by a coalition of Nigeria and its African neighbors: Cameroon, Benin, Chad, and Niger.
The US troops will provide “airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance” to the African nations as part of a larger effort by the US to support fighting against the extreme Islamist insurgency. American drones will also be used to help Nigeria with one of the most expensive aspects of the mission, airborne reconnaissance.
Obama worries that, without US support, Nigeria and its African partners will be unable to beat back the insurgents. The Nigerian military has fought Boko Haram since 2009, and in recent years the government’s ineffectiveness has becomeapparent, as the insurgent group continues to execute high-profile attacks.
Boko Haram has, so far, repelled Nigeria’s government from a large, rural swath in the north and reportedly controls about 20% of the country. The group has also expanded its attacks to neighboring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. The fighting has displaced 1.1 million people and killed tens of thousands. This has continued despite a cross-border offensive by the coalition of Nigeria’s neighbors, which began earlier this year.
Obama fears that, if Boko Haram continues increasing in strength, it could threaten the stability of Nigeria, Africa’s biggest national economy and a valuable US trading partner. Should the insurgency gain direct control of more Nigerian oil, it could grow even stronger, much like ISIS has in Iraq and Syria. Indeed, Boko Haram has formally made an alliance with ISIS and, like the group fighting in the Middle East, has declared itself a Muslimcaliphate.
Meanwhile, the fall in oil prices this year has only added to Nigeria’s compromised status. Nigerian oil provides about three-quarters of government revenues and is crucial for the overall national economy. Should oil prices remain low, Nigeria will be severely handicapped in the war against Boko Haram.
By placing US troops on the ground near Nigeria, though in a non-combat role, Obama wants to ensure that drones and other sensitive US military technology are not misused. International groups have accused Nigeria’s military of corruption and human rights violations. Obama fears that providing lethal aid to Nigeria’s military, without oversight, might further contribute to Nigeria’s corruption and mistreatment of civilians.
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