This Day (Lagos)

22 May 2014

Nigeria: U.S. Deploys 80 Special Forces to Chad to Search for Girls

Photo: Premium Times
Nigerian army searches for Chibok girls.

After the initial hesitation over the deployment of US troops to assist with the search and rescue of over 200 schoolgirls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram over a month ago, US President Barack Obama has finally relented by approving the deployment of 80 US armed forces personnel to Chad to assist in the search for the missing girls.

In a text of the letter written by the US president to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, and the President Pro Tempore of the US Senate, Senator Patrick Leahy, which was released by the White House yesterday, Obama said: "Approximately 80 US Armed Forces personnel have been deployed to Chad as part of the US efforts to locate and support the safe return of over 200 schoolgirls who are reported to have been kidnapped in Nigeria.

"These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area. "The force will remain in Chad until its support in resolving the kidnapping situation is no longer required."

The US president said the action had been directed in furtherance of US national security and foreign policy interests, pursuant to his constitutional authority to conduct US foreign relations and as Commander-in-Chief and Chief Executive.

"I am providing this report as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution (Public Law 93-148)," he added.

Obama expressed his appreciation and the support of the US Congress in these actions. In addition to the troops being sent by the US, France also has forces in Chad, while Britain and the US had sent small teams of specialists to Nigeria to assist the Nigerian government in the search for the girls.

UN Sanctions against Sect to be Decided Today Also, in its effort to complement the assistance being offered by the US, UK, France, China and Israel, the federal government yesterday restated that it had begun the implementation of the agreement reached at the Paris security summit aimed at quelling the activities of the sect.

This is just as the United Nations Security Council would today meet to take a decision on the sanctions to be imposed on Boko-Haram. It was also gathered that the federal government has deployed 5,000 soldiers in support of the regional alliance, which comprise one battalion from Chad Republic, the Republic of Benin, Cameroun and Niger Republic. On the UN sanctions, the Nigerian government is optimistic that the 15-member nations of the Security Council will vote in favour of the extension of the arms embargo, which had been placed on Al-Qaeda, to the Boko-Haram sect.

Briefing journalists on the federal government's position in Abuja, the Coordinator of the National Briefing Centre on Terrorism and Director General of the National Orientation Agency (NOA), Mr. Mike Omeri, said the government of Nigeria had demanded that the arms embargo be imposed on the sect.

"The federal government of Nigeria had formally asked the Security Council to extend the sanctions against Al-Qaeda to include Boko-Haram, being among organisations that should be subjected to an arms embargo.

"Voting on this issue is slated for May 22, 2014. We can assure you that the 15-member nation which Nigeria chairs, will definitely vote in the affirmative as they have all condemned the activities of Boko Haram in Nigeria and in the sub-region," he said.

Omeri explained that as a result of the decisions taken at the recent Paris summit attended by a number of African Heads of Government, Nigeria has commenced the implementation of the agreement reached at the summit by contributing to a battalion of troops to the regional force being put together to check terrorism activities and strengthen cooperation in the sub-region. He said foreign allies such as France, the United Kingdom and the United States would extend technical assistance to achieve the objective.

President Goodluck Jonathan, in conjunction with his counterparts from Benin, Chad, Cameroun and Niger, had in Paris approved an action plan designed to counter the terrorist organisation blamed for 2,000 deaths this year alone and the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls. Jonathan also dismissed criticism that the Nigerian response had been slow, saying terrorism only started in 2009. The regional action plan would involve the coordination of surveillance efforts, sharing of intelligence and joint efforts to secure the porous borders in the region.

Boko Haram Attacks Near Chibok Kill 30 However, the violence has continued, with attacks on villages attributed to Boko Haram leaving 30 people dead near Chibok in Borno State, the town where the Islamists kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls last month, witnesses said yesterday.

The first attack on Monday afternoon led to the death of 10 in the village of Shawa, some seven kilometres from Chibok, a number of residents told AFP on the condition of anonymity.

Gunmen then stormed the nearby village of Alagarno in Damboa Local Government Area late Tuesday and stole food, razed homes and fired on fleeing civilians. "It was a sudden attack," said resident Haruna Bitrus, in an account supported by other locals.

"They began shooting and set fire to our homes. We had to flee to the bush. They killed 20 of our people," he added. Many of those who fled the Alagarno attack ran to Chibok, where Boko Haram seized 276 schoolgirls on April 14. A resident of the village, Mallam Umaru Saina, told journalists on the phone that it was discovered after the attack that a young woman had gone missing, but nobody could yet ascertain whether the woman was abducted by the insurgents. Saina said: "They destroyed everything we had and burnt down our remaining food. The most painful thing is that they did not spare children. They killed a child, they killed women, they equally killed men." All attempts to get confirmation from the relevant authorities proved abortive, as the spokesmen for the police and army could not be reached.

Sources however in both police and the army revealed that troops had been sent to the area to arrest the situation and find the 223 girls who remain in captivity. But Bitrus said despite claims of a military build-up in the area, troops had not responded to the latest attack. "While the gunmen were fleeing, three of their vehicles broke down and they have stayed behind to fix them. They were there up to this morning" with no response from the military, he said.

Jos Death Toll Put at 75 In a related development, the federal government yesterday appealed to residents of Jos metropolis to remain calm as it commenced investigations into the Tuesday twin bomb blasts.

It also said 75 persons had been confirmed dead as a result of the incident while 70 were injured and undergoing treatment at various hospitals in the city.

Coordinator of the National Briefing Centre on Terrorism, Mr. Mike Omeri, who announced this in Abuja, said: "The official casualty figure as at this afternoon are as follows: At the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), 44 people were confirmed dead, at the Plateau State Specialist Hospital, 25 people were confirmed dead; and at another hospital six people were confirmed dead. "This brings the total number to 75, comprising 73 adults and two children; the total number of those injured is 70."

Omeri also appealed to Nigerians not to rush to the scene of bomb explosions until such areas are declared safe, explaining that several people were affected when the second explosion occurred in Jos because they had rushed to the scene of the first blast.

"We wish to appeal to citizens not to rush to the scene of bomb blasts until it is declared safe to do so. We appeal to citizens to assist the victims by donating blood and through other humanitarian services," he added.

Omeri conveyed the condolences of the federal government to the families of victims of the twin blasts, adding, "We wish to restate government's condolences to the families and victims of this act which is despicable in all description.

"Indeed, it is a horrifying crime which must be deplored by all Nigerians and people of good conscience," he stated.

IG: Perpetrators Will Be Uncovered In a bid to calm frayed nerves in Plateau State and the rest of the country over the incessant bomb attacks and raids by suspected terrorists, the Inspector General of Police (IG), Mohammed Abubakar, also vowed that the perpetrators of the Jos bomb blasts would not go unpunished, saying: "We are trailing them, and we would do anything possible to unmask them."

He said this yesterday while addressing journalists at the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH) after going round the casualty ward where the injured were being treated.

He said: "We have visited the injured in the hospital and they are fast recovering," describing the situation as unfortunate, and assuring Nigerians that security agencies were on top of the situation.

Abubakar said no government would tolerate this kind of situation anywhere in the world and because of the concern of the president over the plight of Plateau people, he had directed him (IG) to see what had happened and assess the level of damage and get back to him. He added that investigations were ongoing and all the security agencies were working in concert to ensure that those behind the blasts are arrested.

Abubakar appealed to the people of the state to continue to be patient and provide adequate information to the security agencies to enhance their job.

He also promised to work closely with the state government and the management of hospitals to ensure that the victims recover.

US, UK, House, Others Condemn Blasts Reacting to the blasts, the United States, Britain, House of Representatives, and former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar roundly condemned the Tuesday bombings in Jos.

The US also condemned the suicide bomb attack in Kano at the weekend and appealed for calm amidst reports of rising tension in Jos. The US Embassy, in a statement issued in Abuja yesterday, said the vicious attacks on Nigerian civilians and the abduction of more than 200 girls in Chibok were unconscionable acts which starkly demonstrated the criminality of the perpetrators who continue to target defenseless civilians.

"We extend our deepest condolences to the families of the victims," it read. The statement recalled that the US met last weekend in Paris with Nigerian authorities as well as other partners and allies to discuss the way forward on confronting the regional security threat Boko Haram poses to Nigeria and West Africa.

"Countries agreed to work together to establish a regional counter-terrorism strategy, strengthen regional cooperation, including respect to intelligence sharing and border security, and mobilise support for sanctions against Boko Haram at the United Nations," it said. "The search for the missing school girls of Chibok is ongoing. Nigerians are in the lead. We're continuing to lend our unique assets and capabilities to assist in the search. We continue to stand with the Nigerian government and people as they grapple with violent extremism," it added.

In its statement, Britain's Foreign Secretary, William Hague, described the attack as cowardly and an inhumane crime. He expressed thoughts for those injured and those who had lost loved ones.

The statement read in part: "This attack on the market was a transparent effort to create tension between different groups in a city well known for its diversity where people of different ethnicities and religions live alongside each other. It has resulted in death and tragedy for both Christians and Muslims alike.

"I welcome the restraint shown by the population in the face of this provocation and reiterate the United Kingdom's continued support to the people of Nigeria." Hague also referred to the Paris summit, stating that the international community and regional leaders clearly expressed a collective determination to support Nigeria and defeat the scourge of terrorism. "The Jos attack has only strengthened our resolve," he added. In its reaction, the House of Representatives decried the attack and urged the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to immediately provide relief materials to survivors.

The lawmakers also commiserated with the families and relatives of the affected victims as well as the government of the state over the act. Hon. Bitrus Kaze, who sponsored the motion, told the House that it was regrettable that the act is capable of "renewing tensions, hostilities, anxiety and trauma among the Plateau citizenry".

The House, which described the act as "callous and despicable", urged various security outfits in the country to be on high alert and alive to the responsibilities of protecting lives and property.

It urged the federal government to liaise with the Plateau State Government to take up the responsibility of settling the medical bills of all the victims of the two blasts.

On his part, former Vice-President Atiku advocated an all-party conference aimed at forging a united approach to dealing with the spate of insecurity in the country. In a statement issued by his media office, Atiku described the persistent terrorist bomb attacks on the country as the greatest enemy to the peace and unity of Nigeria. He said the latest bomb blasts in Jos and Kano were embarrassing and intolerable, but advised Nigerians not to despair and succumb to terrorists' blackmail, which is aimed at paralysing the country with fear and hopelessness, and ultimately turning Nigerians against one another.

According to him, terrorism is an act of "deliberate provocation" intended to throw Nigerians at each other's jugular and, thereby, destroying every positive gains of the country since independence and amalgamation. Atiku advised Nigerians not to play into the terrorists' hands by letting themselves get provoked into fighting each other or one another. Atiku also called on politicians to be united in condemning the terrorists' violence against innocent people, adding that they enjoy dividing public opinion in order to justify their atrocities.

He condoled with the people, the families of the victims and the governments of Plateau, Kano and Borno States over the tragic loss of lives. Similarly, a faction of the Nigerian Governors' Forum (NGF) under the leadership of Governor Jonah Jang condemned the recent bombings. In a statement released in Abuja and signed by the administrator of the forum, Osaro Onaiwu, the forum described the bombings as cowardly and designed to shake the faith of citizens in a united Nigeria.

The governors of the forum further sent condolences to the people of Plateau State and extended their sympathies to the families of those lost in the attack.

They called on Nigerians to unite against the forces of evil, as a united Nigeria would be impenetrable to the terrorists.

Also, the National Working Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) postponed by one week, the presidential flag-off of the Ekiti State governorship election campaign billed for today.

The postponement, PDP said, was in honour of the victims of the unfortunate bomb blasts in Jos.

The PDP restated that it was committed to the plights of Nigerians in the light of the security challenges facing the nation. Senate President David Mark and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, also decried in strong terms Tuesday's twin bombings.

The senators urged Nigerians to remain resolute in the fight against terrorism, stressing that bombings are totally alien to Nigeria and therefore must be resisted. Mark, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Paul Mumeh, expressed concern over the development, saying the recurrent bombings in the country in recent times posed a serious threat to the survival of Nigeria.

"From the issue of kidnapping, now we are battling insurgency. This must stop. Nigeria needs peace; our children need better lives because nothing thrives well in a precarious environment.

"We will not relent. With God on our side, this shall come to pass," Mark said.

He urged Nigerians to be vigilant and collaborate with security agencies in the fight against Boko Haram, as he condoled with the government of Plateau State, surviving victims and families of those who lost their lives in the bomb blasts and prayed God to save Nigeria from this menace.

In his own reaction, Ekweremadu condemned the bomb blasts, describing the incidents as "callous and completely unacceptable". The senator, who stated this while decorating his personal orderly, Mr. Edward Utuh, with the rank of Inspector of Police, commended the Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies in their effort in the fight against the insurgency, stating that the culture of bombing is completely alien to the country. He called for a united front against it.

In addition, the senator representing Plateau South, Victor Lar, has denied reports of reprisals after the bomb blasts in Jos.

"I want to correct the news of a reprisal attack as a result of the bomb blasts. There was nothing like that. The JTF (Joint Task Force) has risen to the occasion and there is nothing like reprisal attacks," he said. According to him, the commander of JTF confirmed that his team arrested three people from three different locations who had attempted to bomb different parts of Jos three weeks ago.

Commenting on the casualties, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) revealed that the death toll from the incident had continued to rise, as more bodies were being recovered from the bomb site. He added that people had died in the hospital from the injuries they had sustained.

NEMA's Zonal Coordinator, Mohammed Abdulrahman, at a briefing yesterday, however, was not specific about the number of dead persons and those who had sustained injuries. He said a final figure would be released later. However, the Plateau State Government corroborated the federal government's statement, saying 75 people had died in the blasts, while 126 were injured.

The state Commissioner for Information and Communications, Olivia Dazyem, stated this while giving an update on the incident, shortly after the security council meeting, chaired by the Deputy Governor, Mr. Ignatius Longjan.

She said: "The Plateau State government again sympathises with the families who lost their loved ones in yesterday's twin bomb blasts and also prays for the fast recovery of those who were injured in the incident." The state governor, Jonah David Jang, further described the sponsors and mastermind of the bomb attacks in the country as enemies of the nation, democracy and humanity.

Jang said this in a press statement signed by his Director of Press, Mr. James Mannok.

He condemned the destruction of human lives and urged the security agencies and all patriotic Nigerians to join in fishing out the perpetrators to save the innocent lives of Nigerians.

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