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Obama Sends U.S. Troops, Drones To Cameroon In Anti-Boko Haram Fight

By Warren Strobel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The United States is sending 300 U.S. troops, along with surveillance drones, to Cameroon to bolster a West African effort to counter the Nigerian militant Islamist group Boko Haram, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

In a notification to Congress, President Barack Obama said an advance force of about 90 military personnel began deploying on Monday to Cameroon, with the consent of the Yaounde government.

The troops will “conduct airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations in the region,” Obama said. “These forces are equipped with weapons for the purpose of providing their own force protection and security, and they will remain in Cameroon until their support is no longer needed.”

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the troops would provide intelligence to a multi-national task force being set up to fight Boko Haram and composed of troops from Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Benin.

Boko Haram, which wants to carve out an Islamist caliphate and has allied itself to Islamic State, earlier this year stepped up cross-border attacks on Nigeria’s neighbors.

On Sunday, two female suicide bombers killed nine people in the town of Mora in Cameroon’s Far North region, employing a tactic increasingly favored by Boko Haram.

The American officials said the U.S. soldiers would deploy initially to the city of Garoua in northern Cameroon, not far from the Nigerian border. The force will include Predator drones for surveillance, they said.

The White House said the move was not in response to any changed assessment of threat in the region.

The United States has no combat troops in Africa, but has been increasing support to allies in the region battling Boko Haram.

(Editing by Doina Chiacu and Frances Kerry)

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s (CHCI) 38th Annual Awards Gala in Washington October 8, 2015. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

In Under Two Days, Boko Haram Kills Nearly 170 In Nigeria

By Aminu Abubakar with Ola Awoniyi in Abuja, AFP

Kano, Nigeria — Boko Haram waged fresh attacks in northeastern Nigeria, locals said Friday, bringing to nearly 170 the number of people killed this week in violence President Muhammadu Buhari blasted as “inhuman and barbaric.”

Militants have launched multiple attacks in restive Borno state since Wednesday, with people attending evening prayers during the holy month of Ramadan gunned down, women shot at home, and men dragged from their homes in the dead of night.

A young female suicide bomber also killed 12 worshippers when she blew herself up in a mosque in Borno and while there was no immediate claim of responsibility, Boko Haram has used both men and young women and girls as human bombs in the past.

“President Muhammadu Buhari has condemned the latest wave of killings by Boko Haram in Borno state, describing them as most inhuman and barbaric,” the presidency said in a statement.

Bodies ‘Lying Unattended’

The wave of attacks, which took place over less than 36 hours, is the bloodiest since Buhari came to power in May, vowing to root out the insurgency that has claimed more than 15,000 lives.

News of the violence first emerged on Thursday, when survivors described raids on three different villages in Borno the previous evening that left at least 145 people killed and houses burnt to the ground.

On Friday, fresh details of these killings emerged from a resident of Kukawa, the worst-affected village.

Baana Kole told AFP that he and others had managed to escape into the bush where they spent the night, before returning to bury the dead, only to find that the militants had laid mines everywhere.

“Some residents who hid in trees saw them planting the mines and alerted us when we returned to the village and started burying our dead,” he said.

Bomber ‘Aged Around 15’

“So many dead bodies are still in Kukawa lying unattended. We had to abandon them because we could not carry them with us.”

Less than 24 hours later, a girl blew herself up in a mosque in Malari village, more than 150 kilometers away from Wednesday’s attacks.

“The bomber was a girl aged around 15 who was seen around the mosque when worshippers were preparing for the afternoon prayers,” Danlami Ajaokuta, a vigilante assisting the military against Boko Haram, told AFP.

“People asked her to leave because she had no business there and they were not‎ comfortable with her in view of the spate of suicide attacks by female Boko Haram members.

“She made to leave‎ but while the people were inside the mosque for the prayers she ran from a distance into the mosque and blew herself up,” he added — an account corroborated by resident Gajimi Mala.

And early Friday morning, as people were sleeping, Boko Haram militants dragged men out of houses in Miringa village and shot them for escaping forced conscription.

They “picked 13 men from selected homes and took them to the Eid prayer ground outside the village where they opened fire on them,” resident Baballe Mohammed said, adding 11 died and two managed to escape.

He and another resident said the victims had been targeted because they had fled their home village after Boko Haram tried to force them to join their ranks.

The armed group has intensified its campaign of violence since Buhari came to power on May 29, launching raids, explosions, and suicide attacks that have claimed more than 420 lives.

Boko Haram Has ‘Regrouped’

The spike in violence has sparked concern that earlier victories claimed by the armies of Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon in the region are being eroded.

The four countries — all of which border Lake Chad, a focal point of Boko Haram unrest — launched offensives against the militants early this year as it became apparent that the armed group was gaining too much ground in Nigeria.

They managed to push the militants out of captured towns and villages, but the recent attacks highlight that Boko Haram is not defeated.

“The drawdown of counterinsurgency initiatives, in addition to the fact such undertakings remain limited to Nigerian territory only, have seemingly allowed Boko Haram to regroup, rearm and mobilize their forces ahead of a renewed offensive,” said Ryan Cummings, chief Africa analyst at the Red24 consultancy group.

A new regional fighting force comprising 8,700 troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, and Benin is due to deploy at the end of the month.

Photo: A police officer in northeastern Nigeria at the scene of a suicide bombing after at least 20 people were killed when a young woman detonated explosives at a bus station on June 22, 2015. AFP/File

Opposition Candidate Builds Solid Lead In Nigeria Presidential Election

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

KANO, Nigeria — The opposition candidate in Nigeria’s presidential election, Muhammadu Buhari, drew ahead of President Goodluck Jonathan in vote counting Monday in the country’s hard-fought election.

With ballots from 22 of the country’s 36 states counted, Buhari was ahead with almost ten million votes, compared with nearly eight million for Jonathan.

If Buhari wins and takes office, it would be Nigeria’s first democratic transfer of power and a landmark for democracy on the continent.

Analysts predicted that Jonathan had fallen too far behind to recover.

As the president’s likely defeat became apparent, a senior member of the governing People’s Democratic Party, which has held power since the end of military rule in 1999, interrupted the count at the Independent National Electoral Commission tally center, shouting angrily that the counting had been rigged in favor of the opposition.

Godsday P. Orubebe, former minister for the oil-rich Niger Delta, accused Attahiru Jega, chairman of the commission, of being “tribalistic” and asserted that the count was biased in favor of Buhari. On Twitter, Orubebe has repeatedly congratulated Jonathan on winning, while other government officials have confidently asserted the president would emerge victorious.

After making his accusations, Orubebe stormed out of the tally center, setting the scene for an election result that may be bitterly contested after the final result is announced.

The opposition All Progressives Congress has also raised doubts about the results from several areas in Jonathan’s southern stronghold.

Massive turnout in Buhari’s stronghold, the impoverished, mainly Muslim north, helped boost his vote total. Turnout in Jonathan’s stronghold in the mainly Christian south and southeast didn’t appear enough to surpass the huge turnout for Buhari, a northern Muslim, in the populous north.

Photo: Chatham House via Flickr

Boko Haram Accused Of ‘Crime Against Humanity’ As Massacre Images Emerge

Lagos (AFP) – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry branded a Boko Haram massacre in northern Nigeria a “crime against humanity” Thursday as satellite images suggested massive destruction in the two towns reported razed by its fighters.

“What they have done… is a crime against humanity, nothing less,” Kerry said as first images of what is feared to be the worst atrocity of the six-year Islamist insurgency emerged.

Hundreds of people, if not more, are reported to have been killed in attacks on the towns of Baga and Doron Baga on the shores of Lake Chad in Borno state, according to Amnesty International.

Boko Haram was “evil” and a serious threat “not just in Nigeria and the region but to all of our values”, Kerry said during a visit to Bulgaria. He said he had spoken earlier to his British counterpart Philip Hammond — who was also in Sofia — about the possibility of “a special initiative with respect to Nigeria and with respect to Boko Haram”.

Amnesty and New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch published separate satellite images Thursday claiming to show massive destruction in the adjacent towns, adding to fears they may suffered the deadliest strike yet in Boko Haram’s bloody campaign.

Amnesty’s images showed aerial shots of the towns on January 2 — the day before the attack — and January 7, after homes and businesses were razed.

The group said the images suggested “devastation of catastrophic proportions”, with more than 3,700 structures — 620 in Baga and 3,100 in Doron Baga — damaged or completely destroyed.

HRW said 11 percent of Baga and 57 percent of Doron Baga was destroyed, most likely by fire, attributing the greater damage in Doron Baga to the fact that it houses a regional military base.

Nigeria’s military, which often downplays death tolls, said that 150 died and dismissed as “sensational” claims that 2,000 may have lost their lives in the attacks.

Local officials have said at least 16 settlements around Baga were burnt to the ground and that at least 20,000 people fled.

HRW said the exact death toll was unknown and quoted one local resident as saying: “No one stayed back to count the bodies.

“We were all running to get out of town ahead of Boko Haram fighters who have since taken over the area.”

Amnesty said Boko Haram were believed to have targeted civilian vigilantes helping the army after they overran a Multinational Joint Task Force base for troops from Nigeria, Niger and Chad who have been involved in operations against them.

Harrowing testimony has been emerging from survivors about the scale and brutality of the assault in Baga, included one woman reportedly killed while in labor.

Witnesses who spoke to AFP described seeing decomposing bodies in the streets and one man who escaped after hiding for three days said he was “stepping on bodies” as he fled through the bush.

Amnesty said on Thursday it had received accounts from survivors of Boko Haram fighters killing a woman as she was giving birth, during indiscriminate fire that also cut down small children.

“Half of the baby boy (was) out and she died like this,” the unnamed witness was quoted as saying.

A man in his fifties added: “They killed so many people. I saw maybe around 100 killed at that time in Baga. I ran to the bush. As we were running, they were shooting and killing.”

Another woman said: “I don’t know how many but there were bodies everywhere we looked.”

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Tuesday that its team in capital of Borno state, Maiduguri, was providing assistance to 5,000 survivors of the attack.

The UN refugee agency has said that more than 11,300 Nigerian refugees fled into neighboring Chad.

Some 300 women were said to have been rounded up and detained at a school, witnesses told Amnesty, adding that older women, mothers and children were released after four days but younger women kept.

Amnesty said the witness accounts and images reinforced fears the attack was Boko Haram’s “largest and most destructive” in its fight to establish a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria, which has killed over 13,000 people since 2009.

“The deliberate killing of civilians and destruction of their property by Boko Haram are war crimes and crimes against humanity and must be duly investigated,” it added.

The Baga attack came before presidential and parliamentary elections in Nigeria next month and an upsurge in violence apparently designed to undermine the vote.

Nigeria’s electoral commission said voting was “unlikely” in rebel-controlled areas and arrangements were being made to allow hundreds of thousands of displaced people to cast their ballots.

Screenshot: A file of a screengrab taken on October 2, 2014 from a video released by the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram and obtained by AFP shows the leader of the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Abubakar Shekau (AFP)