27 January 2013

Nigerian Soldiers Left in Bamako - Chad, Burkina Faso, Others Moved to Battle Front

More than a week after they arrived Mali as part of an African-led force to help fight Islamist insurgents in the north of the country, Nigerian soldiers are still stuck in the capital, Bamako, and have not been assigned any combat role, PREMIUM TIMES has learned.

The seeming redundancy of the Nigerian contingent contrasts with soldiers from Chad and Burkina Faso that arrived Mali only two days ago with fewer men, but have been assigned combat roles alongside French soldiers in the forefront.

In a telephone chat, The Director of Defence Information, Mohammed Yerima, said the first batch of 160 soldiers are helping to secure Bamako and are preparing grounds for the arrival of a larger contingent.

"Our main body has not reached there. It is only 160 that have reached there and they're the ones providing security for Bamako. It is when the main body reaches there that it will be [deployed]."

Despite the raging conflict in the north, Bamako has remained peaceful and is yet to come under any attack from the Islamists.

Mr Yerima also said it is not the responsibility of the Nigerian military authorities to decide when and where the soldiers are to be deployed.

"Is it you and me that will determine to them where they want to deploy them to, he asked.

"We don't have any business with that. Our own is to give them (the West African Force) soldiers. It is their responsibility to determine when to deploy them [soldiers] and where to deploy them. We have no business with them. We have handed them (the soldiers) over to them."

It is not yet clear whether the refusal to assign Nigerian soldiers to combat positions is connected to the assessment of the Nigerian army by European military experts.

Last November, a senior European military expert assigned to plan the military ousting of the Islamists told the U.K. Guardian newspapers, that the Nigerian army is in "a shocking state" that it can only be relied upon for "manning checkpoints and loading trucks."

"The Nigerian forces lack training and kits, so they simply don't have the capability to carry out even basic military manoeuvres. They have poor discipline and support. They are more likely to play a behind-the-scenes role in logistics and providing security," the source said.

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