U.S. Military Works With African Security Forces To Fight Boko Haram
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The Trump administration's new budget blueprint pledges to boost military spending while making deep cuts in foreign aid. It's not yet clear what that will mean for U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Africa. Over the past few weeks, the U.S. military has been involved in annual training with West and Central African security forces. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports from Chad that they're collaborating in the fight against Boko Haram, the violent extremist group.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Cross-border counterterrorism investigations and crisis response are among the priorities for regional forces battling Boko Haram insurgents in West Africa and beyond.
BILLY ALFANO: Porous borders of the Lake Chad Basin region provide an opportunity for terrorists to exploit these vulnerabilities to travel across the border to transit illicit goods and possibly terrorism suspects.
QUIST-ARCTON: That's Billy Alfano, a special agent with the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Office of Anti-terrorism Assistance. Alfano says as well as the military, law enforcement also has a key role to play.
ALFANO: It's critical for our partner nations to work together to collaborate and share information, conduct joint investigations with the law enforcement in those communities.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).
QUIST-ARCTON: So for the past three weeks security forces from Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria have been engaged in training with the U.S. military and, for the first time, law enforcement. Two prime scenarios have been simulating the aftermath of a terrorist bombing and chasing suicide bomb suspects. In one instance, cross-border intelligence indicates it's a Boko Haram operation in Chad, originating in Nigeria with infiltration via Cameroon and possibly Niger.
GILBERT NAGASSOU: (Speaking French).
QUIST-ARCTON: Cameroonian border station police commander Gilbert Nagassou says, "this is precisely the sort of collaboration and information sharing the region needs. If there is intelligence from Nigeria and it's relayed to Chad, then Cameroon must also be made aware," says Nagassou. "And Niger also needs to be informed so that together we can nip Boko Haram's plans in the bud and stop them attacking our people." Nagassou says the Flintlock training exercise has made them all better able to jointly confront the terrorist threat and common enemy.
NAGASSOU: (Speaking French).
QUIST-ARCTON: "Terrorism knows no borders, no boundaries," says the Cameroonian police commander. Deadly Boko-Haram bomb blasts have targeted all four countries battling the terrorist network, killing thousands of people and driving millions more from their homes.
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QUIST-ARCTON: Commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command Africa, Brigadier General Donald Bolduc, jointly hosted the closing ceremony with his Chadian and military counterparts. Addressing the media, Bolduc stressed the need for a comprehensive approach and an all-encompassing strategy to counter terrorism in West Africa and the Sahel and the threat of Boko Haram
DONALD BOLDUC: The military can't do it by itself, and everyone has realized that. So regionalize all their efforts. Work closely together in a effective military construct - religious leaders, the police, anybody that's working - in order to bring the stability necessary to the local villages.
QUIST-ARCTON: After Chad this year, Niger is set to host operation Flintlock 2018. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, in N'Djamena, Chad.
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