Nigeria: Al-Qaida 'Making Inroads' in North-West Nigeria - U.S. General

Nigerian soldiers (file photo).

Islamist terrorist organisations such as Al-Qaida have begun to march towards the north-western part of Nigeria, a top military general in the U.S army has said.

Dagvin Anderson, commander of U.S Special Operations Command in Africa, said during a digital press briefing Tuesday that the American government is engaging with Nigeria on intelligence sharing and understanding of what the terrorists are doing.

"And that has been absolutely critical to their engagements up in the Borno State and into an emerging area of northwest Nigeria that we're seeing al-Qaida starting to make some inroads in," said Mr Anderson.

"So this intelligence sharing is absolutely vital and we stay fully engaged with the Government of Nigeria to provide them an understanding of what these terrorists are doing, what Boko Haram is doing, what ISIS-West Africa is doing, and how ISIS and al-Qaida are looking to expand further south into the littoral areas."

Since it began about ten years ago, violent extremism has been largely confined to the north-eastern states of Borno, Yobe, Adamawa. Its move southwards could see states like Kano, Katsina, and Kaduna at risk of terrorist attacks.

At Tuesday's briefing, Mr Anderson discussed U.S partnerships with African nations to reduce extremism, combat terrorist organisations, and bring about peace and prosperity throughout the continent.

The army general noted that Nigeria has to lead the way in the fight against terrorism as well as provide an enabling environment for partnerships.

"So no nation can come in and fix that problem for Nigeria. We can assist with that - and it's the United States can assist, the United Kingdom, other countries can come in, many countries can come and assist with that partnership - but ultimately it takes leadership from Nigeria in order for us to focus our efforts," Mr Anderson said.

"We need to understand where Nigeria wants to focus those efforts so we can partner appropriately to have the best effect.

"We have partnered with great effect with Nigeria in counterterrorism in the past. We've had good engagements with their air force in particular and providing C-208 capability, which is a light, fixed-wing ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] platform, very capable, and we've had good engagement. We've had good engagements with their air force in integrating their air force with their ground forces in order to make their air force more effective.

"Nigeria is a large country, it's got a lot of territory to cover, and so it's critical that they have that air component and that air engagement. So we have had positive engagements there."

Mr Anderson also said the recent rescue of some Chinese fishermen by the Nigerian coast guard was a combination of the engagement of the U.S with Nigeria's maritime forces that helped build maritime awareness along their coast.

"And that was in partnership with their neighbours in Togo and Benin as well, who helped with that whole operation to understand the intelligence that led them to where these fishermen were, but then it was the unit that went out and did that was a Nigerian special operations unit that our Navy SEALs had trained a few years previously."

Mr Anderson said for years, the international community had erroneously thought it had defeated terrorism or that they had put them on the back foot and they're moments away from disintegration, "I think after 20 years we have seen they are very resilient organizations that, although small, they're able to leverage social media and other forms of media to have an outsized voice and that they continue to recruit and they continue to find opportunities.

"And so they have evolved. What they were in the '90s and what they preyed upon in the '90s is different than what we saw in the 2000s in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, and now as we see them come back into Africa and engage more in Africa, we see them exploit other grievances and other divides. So we see them being very resilient, creative, and flexible.

"So I'd ask all of the partners, all of our partners, not to underestimate the threat and not to underestimate what they're capable of doing and that they are very patient and that they are willing to look for opportunities as they emerge. So you can't just say 'we've defeated them,' you have to continue to address weaknesses and places where these terrorist groups can - that they can exploit.

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