United States Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield and African Commission (AFRICOM) chief General David Rodriguez, during an appearance on Live at State, a Department of State webcast, spoke on President Muhammadu Buhari’s planned Washington trip, Ebola, Boko Haram and other foreign affairs-related matters. Find below excerpts from the interview:
The U.S. President has extended an invitation to Nigeria’s President Buhari. What should Nigerians expect from this visit?
What Nigerians should expect is that this will reaffirm the strong relationship that we have with the government and the people of Nigeria. We will be discussing with President Buhari moving forward how we can support his efforts to address his priorities for Nigeria. He’s indicated that his major priorities are dealing with the security situation, addressing the economy, and also addressing the issue of corruption and asset retrieval. So, we will have discussions with him on what we can do in those areas to support him. And I think for the Nigerian people, again, it highlights the importance of our relationship with Nigeria moving forward.
In the last administration, the U.S. refused to sell arms to Nigeria, citing human rights abuses allegedly committed by security forces as the reason. With a change of government, has that position changed?
That’s a policy decision led by our State Department in Nigeria, and right now we are continuing to engage with the new government to see how effective that is as it moves forward. And we are prepared to move at the pace and rate that the State Department leads this as we rebuild those relationships in Nigeria.
Let me just add to that. As you heard in my opening statement, President Buhari is going to be in Washington later this month for meetings with the administration, and we will have discussions with him moving forward on what we can do to continue to assist the Nigerians in their efforts to fight against Boko Haram. And part of that discussion will be how we can provide the equipment and support that the Nigerians require. Human rights are an important value for the U.S., and in any place where we are providing lethal weapons, we want to know that the military that we are providing those to do not use that in a way that violates the human rights of ordinary civilians. So, we will have that discussion moving forward, and it is our hope that as we discuss these issues with the Nigerian government, we will also have a discussion with them on how to better prepare their military to support communities and build confidence in communities and not be part of the – not be victimised in the efforts of the military to fight against Boko Haram.
In recent times, what has been the support of the U.S. to the Nigerian military in general?
We have supported the Nigerian military building capacity in some of their units. So, we have a great relationship, for example, with the special boat squadron and the navy. We are also participating in a combined fusion centre where we share intelligence with the senior leadership of the Nigerian military and their intelligence services and the police force. And we continue to be prepared to grow that relationship in the future.
U.S. intelligence teams were recently in Nigeria to help track the Chibok girls. Over a year after their arrival, the story has not yet changed. What went wrong?
The U.S. has continued to share intelligence with the Nigerian leadership with those Shabaab girls as well as other people who have been taken by Boko Haram, and we continue to do that. As far as the effort, I think it – while it didn’t yield getting back all the girls, there have been many of the people that were held by Boko Haram that have been freed over time, and we continue to pursue efforts to get the Chibok girls back.
Let me just add that this has been an extremely high priority for the U.S. government to assist in bringing these girls home, but also in bringing the hundreds of other girls and young boys who were forcefully taken by Boko Haram. We have seen that about 700-plus have recently returned, and we are supporting efforts of the government and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) to provide support to those young girls who have – who have fortunately been freed. We will not let up on our efforts. We will continue to work with the government. We commend President Buhari and his wife for visiting the families of the Chibok girls and letting them know that we have not forgotten about them.
The Multinational Joint Task Force was recently formed. What support will the U.S. provide to support the effort?
We have been working with the countries in the region to support the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF), and during my recent trip to the African Union (AU) summit in Johannesburg, South Africa we announced the contribution of $5 million towards the setup of the MJTF and we will continue to work with the governments in the region to support that. I think the general’s back, so I’ll turn it over to the general to talk more about some of the more specific support we’re providing.
We have a coordination cell in N’Djamena, Chad that is part of a French and British as well as the partner African nations – all four of them that are participating in the MJTF. In that coordination cell, we share intelligence with each of the respective countries. We also have people in their tactical headquarters at both Maroua, in Cameroon, in N’Djamena, in Chad, and then over in Diffa in Niger who are advising and assisting the countries involved the MJTF in their struggle against Boko Haram.
What does the U.S. do to help put an end to the jihadist problem in the Sahel and to Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin?
Peace and security on the continent of Africa is our highest priority. And we are working closely – and I’d like General Rodriguez also respond to this question. We have been working very closely with our partners in the Sahel, in Nigeria, the Lake Chad Basin countries, and that I would as well mention in the Horn of Africa dealing with al-Shabaab, to help build their capacity but also support their efforts and to contribute to their efforts to fight against extremism on the continent of Africa.
This has had a tremendous impact on the continent. Every single day I read in the paper that dozens of people across the continent of Africa are being killed by extremists. So, we know that this is something that requires all of our efforts to address, and we’re working closely with our African partners to do that.
Well, as you know, we’ve got a long-term effort to both build the partner capacity of those nations involved in the fight against violent extremists. We also, of course, continue to support our French partners who are working hard in Mali, Niger and Chad to help defeat the scourge of terrorism in that region. And we continue over – around the Boko Haram region, we have great long-term capacity-building successes in both Cameroon and Chad that have helped to take that fight to the enemy, as well as over in Niger.
With Nigerians, we continue to share intelligence, and that has continued to help them push back and open up some of the areas that had recently been held in the Boko Haram’s hands, and we continue to look forward to building those capacities even better so that they can take care of that situation by themselves.