UPDATED: New head of multinational force on Boko Haram appointed
The appointment was necessary because the former head, Brig-Gen. T. Y. Buratai, was appointed as the Chief of Army Staff by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The new commander, Major General Iliya Abbah, previously headed military operations in the Niger Delta, according to a military spokesman, Major General Chris Olukolade.
The Multi-National 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, Abbah, a Muslim from northern Nigeria, served as the military secretary in the army, Olukolade added. In that post, he was responsible for promotions, postings and retirements.
The officer, who was seen Thursday at a military ceremony in the capital Abuja, had also been part of Nigeria’s contingent to peacekeeping operations in Sudan’s troubled western Darfur region, one of his close friends told AFP.
The military spokesman had said Tuesday that the new regional force was expected to go into action “any moment from now”, but 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 just two months.
The regional task force will be headquartered in Chad’s capital N’Djamena, but few other specific details have emerged, raising concerns that its deployment may face delays.
Buhari is currently in neighbouring Cameroon for talks on how to combat the escalating regional threat from Boko Haram, whose fighters have launched murderous cross-border raids and suicide bombings.
Nigeria said Buhari’s talks with President Paul Biya were part of his “ongoing effort to build a more effective regional coalition against Boko Haram”.
The extremist movement launched an armed insurgency in 2009 and claims to want to found a strict Islamic caliphate in and around northeast Nigeria.
Its name loosely translates as “Western education is forbidden”.
Since taking office, Buhari has also visited Chad and Niger, which have also suffered from attacks by the Islamist fighters and sent troops to take part in operations.
– Ongoing offensives –
Buhari is expected to visit Benin on Saturday. 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 jihadists, during ongoing offensives in the northeast.
Boko Haram has abducted many civilians, including children, in raids on villages and towns inside Nigeria and abroad. Non-Muslims are forcibly converted to Islam.
The movement also forces young teenage girls and women to become suicide bombers. In the past eight days, such bombers have killed at least 47 people in attacks at crowded places in towns in Nigeria and Cameroon.