The African Union (AU) Friday, called for a regional five-nation force of 7,500 troops to defeat the Boko Haram Islamist militants, AU Commission Chief, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said.
“Boko Haram’s horrendous abuses, unspeakable cruelty, total disregard for human lives, and wanton destruction of property are unmatched,” Dlamini-Zuma said in a statement after the bloc’s Peace and Security Council met late Thursday, ahead of a full AU summit meeting, Friday.
The Boko Haram uprising has become a regional crisis, with the four directly affected countries: Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria reaching an agreement with Benin Republic to boost cooperation to contain the threat and to form a Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF).
“I am deeply concerned by the prevailing situation as a result of Boko Haram terrorist activities, including the recent escalation of violence witnessed on the ground,” Dlamini-Zuma added.
“The continued attacks in North-eastern Nigeria and the increasing attacks in the Lake Chad Basin, along the border with Chad and Cameroon, and in the northern provinces of that country, have the potential of destabilising the entire region, with far-reaching security and humanitarian consequences.”
More than 13,000 people have been killed and more than one million rendered homeless by the insurgents since 2009. Regional nations pledged, January to commit a battalion each to the force, a total of 3,000 troops, but Dlamini-Zuma said after meetings Thursday it has decided that “no efforts should be spared” to defeat the fighters.
“Accordingly, it is recommended that the countries of the region be authorised to increase the strength of the MNJTF to up to 7,500,” she added, after the meeting at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where the two-day annual summit of the 54-nation bloc opens Friday.
Chad’s President Idriss Deby, who in January sent a convoy of troops and 400 military vehicles into neighbouring Cameroon to fight Boko Haram, said action has to be taken. “We have seen too many meetings and no concrete action, today, there are four countries affected by Boko Haram, but tomorrow it may be a continental problem,” Deby said.
Nigeria has the largest army in west Africa but has come under criticism at home and abroad for failing to stop the advance of Boko Haram.
Earlier this month Nigerian security officials ruled out the need for a United Nations or African Union-backed force to fight Boko Haram, saying the country and its partners could handle the threat.