, ABUJA, Nigeria, Jul 31 – Nigeria named the head of a new multinational force created to fight Boko Haram jihadists carrying out a wave of attacks, as the country’s outgoing defence chief of staff warned its military was underfunded and poorly equipped.
The announcement came as Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was in Cameroon in a bid to forge a stronger regional alliance against the Islamists, while the Nigerian military said it had rescued dozens of people held hostage by the militant group.
Abuja on Thursday said Major General Iliya Abbah, who previously commanded military operations in the oil-rich Niger Delta, will head the five-nation Multi-National Joint Task Force.
The 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.
It is expected to go into action within days, with Buhari saying during his visit to Cameroon that it would be ready “by the end of this month”.
In a joint statement after their talks in Yaounde, Buhari and Cameroon’s President Paul Biya expressed “their common determination to eradicate Boko Haram… and agreed to intensify the exchange of information between the two countries”.
They will also beef up security along their shared border, the statement added.
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.
Abbah, a Muslim from northern Nigeria, previously served as the army’s military secretary, where he was responsible for promotions, postings and retirements, and was also part of Nigeria’s contingent to peacekeeping operations in Sudan’s troubled western Darfur region.
– ‘Invisible enemy’ –
Despite the creation of the multinational force, Nigeria’s outgoing chief of defence staff warned on Thursday that the country’s military “lacked the relevant equipment and motivation to fight an enemy that was invisible and embedded with the local populace”.
In a speech to mark his retirement after he was sacked by Buhari this month, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh said Nigeria’s forces were “neglected and underequipped to ensure the survival of certain regimes, while other regimes, based on advice from some foreign nations, deliberately reduced the size of the military and underfunded it”.