A senior U.S. official said on Friday that there are signs that Nigeria’s Boko Haram terrorist group is sending fighters to join Islamic State in Libya to increase cooperation between the two groups.
Nigeria has asked the United States to sell it aircraft to fight Boko Haram, which has been waging a seven-year insurgency in the north and last year pledged loyalty to Islamic State, which is active in Syria, Iraq and Libya.
Little is known about the extent of cooperation between the two radical Islamist groups.
But Western governments worry that Islamic State’s growing presence in north Africa and ties with Boko Haram could herald a push south into the vast, lawless Sahel region and create a springboard for wider attacks.
Longer Than Thought
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said there were “reports” that Boko Haram fighters were going to Libya, where Islamic State had established a large presence, taking advantage of security chaos.
“We’ve seen that Boko Haram’s ability to communicate has become more effective. They seem to have benefited from assistance from Daesh,” he said, using a derogatory name for Islamic State. There were also reports of material and logistical aid.
“So these are all elements that suggests that there are more contacts and more cooperation, and this is again something that we are looking at very carefully because we want to cut it off,” Blinken told reporters in Nigeria.
Blinken said the United States was helping Nigeria in its fight against Boko Haram with armoured vehicles. But he declined to comment on a request by Nigeria to sell it aircraft.
U.S. officials told Reuters this month that Washington wanted to sell up to 12 A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft to Nigeria in recognition of President Muhammadu Buhari’s army reforms. Congress needs to approve the deal.
President Muhammadu Buhari had said that the nation was “not bothered initially, of what intentional connection Boko Haram has until they claimed that they are loyal to ISIS”.
He associated the crisis with incidents in the Sahel region, saying that what happened in Libya in the Sahel, in terms of trained personnel and weapons, had compounded the problem, making it last longer than thought.
He also said that Nigeria’s border with neighbouring countries, mostly in the eastern region, was difficult to monitor.
“We have more than 1,500 kilometres neighbourhood in an area where donkeys, oxen, camels can cross any time of the day. It is not easy to guide such borders,” President Buhari added.