In its fight against Boko Haram, Nigeria’s military has consistently appeared less equipped than its adversaries. But that may soon change.
The Pentagon notified US Congress yesterday (Aug. 28) of the sale of $593 million worth of military equipment to Nigeria. The equipment consists of 12 Super Tucano A-29 surveillance and attack planes, among other weapons. Nigerian vice president confirmed the exchange on Twitter:
The sale comes as Nigeria looks to step up its fight against the terrorist group. Despite losing former strongholds, Boko Haram has remained active, killing 200 civilians in several attacks throughout the first half of 2017. The most prominent recent attack was the bombing of the largest university in Nigeria’s northeast region, the University of Maiduguri, which was once regarded as a safe haven. The attacks have undermined the military’s claims that the sect has been defeated.
Super Tucano A-29 planes are a boon for counterinsurgency operations, allowing pilots to carry out reconnaissance and surveillance missions, as well as providing close air support to ground troops. But despite their advantages, the sophisticated aircrafts are unlikely to give Nigeria’s army an immediate edge in fighting the insurgency. Boko Haram has become more slippery, adopting guerrilla tactics after losing much of the territory it once held in northeast Nigeria.
The militant sect has increasingly resorted to suicide bombings on soft targets, such as markets, car parks and schools, rather than the coordinated large-scale attacks on towns and villages it used previously. Many of the suicide bombings are carried out by children. According to UNICEF, the number of children suicide bombers deployed by Boko Haram this year is already four times higher than it was in all of 2016.
The weapons sale, while initially agreed to under former US president Barack Obama, was delayed over concerns about human rights violations by Nigerian troops. Those concerns stemmed from a March 2015 report by rights group Amnesty International, which claimed that Nigeria’s military arbitrarily detained and killed civilians in the northeast.
More recently, Nigeria’s air force accidentally bombed a refugee camp, killing more than 200 people. A spokesman for Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari called the bombing a “regrettable operational mistake.”