The African Union has endorsed the creation of a regional force of up to 10 000 men to join the fight against the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram, diplomats said on Friday.
The force, the idea for which was adopted at an AU summit in January, will be based in Chad’s capital N’Djamena, the pan-African bloc’s Peace and Security Council said.
It will be mandated “to prevent the spread of Boko Haram activities and other terrorist groups” and “eradicate their presence”, the body agreed in a meeting this week.
Diplomats said Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Benin have committed to providing troops, who would “operate freely” in a still-undefined region.
According to an AU diplomat, who asked not to be named, the troops will operate around the Lake Chad Basin but not on Nigerian soil — explaining that Nigeria “has a problem with agreeing to have foreign troops on its soil”.
Without the ability to intervene in Nigeria, the force would only be able to counter cross-border attacks by the militants. The diplomat, however, said close coordination with Nigerian troops could see Boko Haram fighters effectively sandwiched.
At least 13 000 people have been killed and more than a million forced from their homes since Boko Haram launched an insurgency in 2009. The group also carried out the mass abduction of 276 girls from the town of Chibok in April last year.
The AU has said it will seek UN Security Council approval in the form of a Chapter 7 resolution authorising the use of force, plus a UN “Trust Fund” to pay for it.
Diplomats said that while “logistical support” would be forthcoming, financing remained the key obstacle to collective action.