A new regional fighting force against Boko Haram will be headed by a Nigerian commander, the five-nation coalition agreed on Thursday, after talks on military strategy against the militants.
According to an AFP report, the decision came after President Muhammadu Buhari rejected calls for a rotating command between the partners, arguing it could hamper the counter-insurgency effort.
A final communique following three days of talks in Abuja on the remit of the new 8,700-strong force backed Buhari’s stance for a Nigerian to control operations “until the end of the mission”.
Cameroon will take the number two role of “deputy first commander” for an initial 12 months while a Chadian will be appointed chief of staff, again for the first year, the statement said.
“National contingents” of troops for the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) from Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin should be deployed by July 30, it added.
The MNJTF will replace an existing ad hoc coalition of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, which has claimed a series of successes against Boko Haram since February.
But there are hopes it will be more effective and deliver a hammer blow to the Islamic State-affiliated group, with at least 15,000 dead and more than 1.5 million made homeless since 2009.
Nigeria’s military last week announced that Major-General Tukur Buratai had taken charge of the MNJTF, which has its headquarters in Chad’s capital, N’Djamena.
The headquarters will cost $30 million (27 million euros) to run in the first year.
Buhari earlier told his regional counterparts and Cameroon’s defence minister, representing President Paul Biya, that there was a need to view the insurgency as part of the “global war against terror”.
“Terrorism has no frontiers and they must, because of the great implication for regional and global peace and security, be defeated,” he added.
The regional meeting was being closely watched for indications about the extent to which foreign forces can operate inside Nigerian territory.
Chad and Niger have both complained the previous administration of Goodluck Jonathan prevented their troops from pursuing militant fighters deeper into Nigeria’s northeast but Buhari suggested permission for operations of foreign troops on Nigerian soil was not an issue.
“On the rules of engagement, we have gone beyond that because all our neighbours, especially Chad and Niger, have come into Nigerian territory to chase away Boko Haram and secure the territory for Nigeria,” he told reporters.
Buhari has already moved the Nigerian military’s command centre from Abuja to Maiduguri, in the rebels’ northeastern stronghold.
Last weekend, he appealed to world leaders at the G7 summit in Germany for more help in combating extremism and visited Chad and Niger to push for longer-term co-operation on security threats.
The flurry of activity, less than two weeks into his presidency, stands in stark contrast to years of apparent inaction in tackling the group under his predecessor.