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Nigeria Wants to Lead from Behind in Mali Too

We reported earlier that America may be preparing to intervene in Mali. In recent months, however, the Nigerian army has been the Great White Hope, so to speak, of those looking for a regional solution to the establishment of a jihadi regime there. The regional bloc known as Ecowas (Economic Community of West African States) had hoped to use the Nigerian army to help drive out militant Islamists from Northeastern Mali, only to find out at the last minute that the force was woefully unprepared. The Guardian has the story:

“The Nigerian army is in a shocking state,” said the source, who has seen recent assessments of Ecowas’s military capability. “In reality there is no way they are capable of forward operations in Mali – their role is more likely to be limited to manning checkpoints and loading trucks.”

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

News about the low capacity of Ecowas troops adds increasing pressure on the Malian army, whose lack of training and equipment led directly to the country’s 22 March coup d’etat, which toppled the previous civilian government and allowed al-Qaida-linked Islamists to gain control of the country’s north.

A spokesperson for the Nigerian national security agencies admitted that the army lacked  funding for resources, but claimed it was strong in personnel and training. There’s still some hope that the force can “lead from behind”, managing logistics and security behind the front lines.

Many countries are worried about the growth of a jihadi safe haven in a vast area of Africa that is uncomfortably close to Europe. They were all hoping to shelter behind the Nigerians, but the Nigerians now want to shelter behind other people. Nobody seems to want to go to the front lines, and an unstable Malian government may have to shoulder much of the burden.

Meanwhile, this portrait of the corrupt and incompetent Nigerian army tells us a lot about the future of the fight with Boko Haram. The fever of jihadi radicalism is spreading across parts of Africa where Christian-Muslim relations are already volatile, where governments are weak, poverty endemic, and security forces badly led, underequipped, and poorly paid.

Religious conflict followed by the establishment of large safe zones for terror across north central Africa would be an enormous disaster.

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