Efforts by the Nigerian military to procure US-made Chinook helicopters from Israel, to facilitate the movement of troops and the injured, have been blocked by the United States Government, THISDAY has learnt.
This, among other issues, including the US’ refusal to provide Nigeria’s security agencies with timely intelligence needed to defeat Boko Haram insurgents who have been riding rough shod in the North-east, would form part of the discussions when President Goodluck Jonathan meets with US President Barack Obama in New York this week.
Jonathan departed for New York on Sunday for the 69th General Assembly of the United Nations.
The Chinook is a versatile and reliable American twin-engine, tandem rotor heavy-lift helicopter produced by Boeing. Its primary roles are troops movement, artillery placement and battlefield resupply.
In a war where Boko Haram insurgents move in convoys through arid towns and villages, the helicopters are required to checkmate them, reinforce troops and supplies and recover dead and wounded soldiers.
Although it has a number of variants and is used primarily for the transportation of troops, supplies and search and rescue operations, limited weaponry can be mounted on its door and window for the purpose of enemy attacks.
However, according to defence and intelligence sources, attempts to buy the helicopters and other munitions from, first the US and other Western European countries, have proved to be an impossible task, thus compelling the military to resort to Israel and several retired members of the Israeli defense forces.
Opening up on the challenges the Nigerian military has faced dealing with the procurement of arms for the war effort in the North-east, a knowledgeable official, who did not want to be named as he was not authorised to speak with the press, said: “The US government has frustrated Nigeria all the way in our war against terrorism despite its public statements in support of Nigeria, as it fights the Boko Haram insurgents in the North-east… They want us to fight Boko Haram with our arms tied to our backs.
“They have refused to sell us arms and equipment and even our recent attempt to buy Chinook helicopters, which are manufactured in the US, from the Israelis was blocked, based on unfounded allegations of human rights violations by our troops. This is after the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu had initially approved the purchase.
“But because they were supplied by the Americans, the Israelis required a ‘No Objection’ letter from Washington which was refused.
“We had even tried to procure arms from Russia but this was stalled because of the Ukrainian crisis, thus compelling us to turn to other nations like Israel. But even this has been frustrated by the US,” he said.
He said it was not just in the area of arms procurement that US has been most unhelpful, adding that contrary to its public stance that it was assisting in the rescue operations of the abducted Chibok secondary school girls it has done nothing significant to help Nigeria in this regard.
Other intelligence sources also cited the fact that the US has refused to share intelligence with Nigerian security forces in a timely manner.
They said: “When we complained they started sharing some intelligence, but days after the fact when such intelligence is of little value.
“They have blocked us from procuring the helicopters and would not provide us with intelligence despite the fact that they have several drones and sophisticated aircraft overflying the North-east of Nigeria from bases in Niger and Chad where the Boko Haram fighters and movements are clearly in their sights.
“This belies their stance they want to help us to defeat the terrorists and help to rescue the Chibok girls.”
Indeed, a security analyst who spoke to THISDAY on the issue said the US’ role smacks of double standards and questioned its intent over the Boko Haram insurgency.
He warned that ignoring the threat of Boko Haram could be a strategy that could come to haunt the US in the future.
He also wondered why the same US would refuse to assist Nigeria based on unsubstantiated claims of human rights violations, which the military has repeatedly denied and insisted are carried out by Boko Haram insurgents wearing Nigerian military uniforms, yet the same US turns a blind eye to the same human rights violations committed by countries like Israel.
“Look at what happened in the recent war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza strip. Israel repeatedly bombed school compounds and UN buildings and in the process killed scores of women and children.
“Even the UN cried out against the targeting of its facilities by Israeli forces, yet the US did nothing and will continue to supply arms and ammunition to Israel to defend itself against Palestinians and other hostile neighbours in the Middle East,” the security analyst said.
Efforts by THISDAY to get the White House to respond to the allegations were not successful.
Two questions to the White House and the US National Security Adviser’s office which were unanswered as at press time are: The Nigerian military, through its agents, tried to buy Chinook helicopters for the prosecution of the war against terrorism, from Israel. But this was blocked by the U.S. National Security Council and the White House. If so, why was the procurement blocked?; and the decision to block the procurement of the helicopters may have stemmed from U.S.’ concerns over human rights abuses by Nigerian troops who have been fighting the insurgents in the North-eastern part of the country. Does this not appear contradictory given the fact that the U.S. continues to supply equipment and ammunition to Israel, which is also accused of human rights violations in Palestinian territories?
More Terrorists Surrender
In a related development, as the news continued to spread about the possible killing of the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, or his body double who security forces insist has been impersonating the “real” Shekau for over a year, members of the terror sect have been thrown into disarray and are surrendering in droves to the Nigerian military.
Whereas the security agencies are yet to officially name or confirm the names of some of the senior members of the sect who were said to have been killed or captured in recent operations in Konduga, Borno State, including Shekau or his alleged imposter, more suspected insurgents have continued to surrender and hand over their weapons to the troops.
According to a statement issued on the Defence Headquarter's (DHQ) twitter handle, 10 more sect members surrendered yesterday to the Nigerian security forces at Kawuri, Borno State, and have since been taken into custody for further interrogation.
The statement read: “Another set of 10 terrorists yesterday surrendered to troops at #Kawuri. In custody for necessary security debriefing #VictoryforNigeria.”
A blood battle had ensued between members of the sect and Nigerian troops in Kawuri about two weeks ago, leaving over 50 terrorists dead.
It is believed that some 40 terrorists including those from Konduga have so far surrendered to the military.
Military Debunks Cameroun’s Claim
However, the unconfirmed death of the Boko Haram leader or his impostor has continued to generate controversy as Camerounian authorities were alleged to have claimed responsibility for the killing of the terrorist henchman.
Camerounian authorities yesterday released a photo of a dead man they identified as Shekau, the loquacious and attention-seeking leader of the terrorist group that has launched deadly strikes in Nigeria’s North-east zone as well as Cameroun.
But the claim, which went viral, attracted the attention of the Nigerian Defence authorities, which quickly debunked the rumour.
The DHQ through its twitter account described the claim by Cameroun as untrue.
The military authorities said: “There was no raid whatsoever by Cameroun or any foreign forces in any part of Nigeria’s territory in pursuit of terrorists as claimed in some reports allegedly quoting Cameroun military authorities.
“All operations ongoing in the environs of Konduga and all associated border locations within the country are completely being undertaken by Nigerian troops.”
Troops Shoot Indiscriminately in Yola
Meanwhile, pandemonium broke out at the Federal College of Education (FCE), Yola, Adamawa State, yesterday when some soldiers on patrol shot into the air a few meters away from the institution.
The development caused panic in the school and its environs, as students and other passersby were reported to have scrambled for safety. In the melee that ensured, some of the students sustained various degrees of injuries.
An eyewitness, who spoke to THISDAY on the issue, revealed that the soldiers were part of the troops drafted to fight the insurgents in Mubi, Michika, Gulak and Madagali of Adamawa State.
The eyewitness, who pleaded anonymity, said he was about to board a bus when he and other intending passengers heard sporadic gunshots, compelling them to run for their lives.
He said several vehicles were badly damaged in the process of trying to escape from the gunshots.
It also led to a traffic snarl in the area and many people sustained injuries, he revealed.
“See how our vehicles are now damaged and not one among the soldiers deemed it fit to say sorry, they just zoomed off. Only in Nigeria would you see security operatives firing shots unprovoked. They are just trigger happy,” said Ambrose Anthony, a student of FCE, Yola.
Another eyewitness, named Abdulazeez, said: “We have to run for our lives, fearing that it was Boko Haram insurgents that have taken over the state capital.”
Abdulazeez, who sustained an injury, said students were injured while scampering for their lives, particularly female students who were about to enter the college.
Reacting to the development, the Public Relations Officer of the college, Mallam Bashir Abdullahi, said the shooting incident did not take place in the college but was nearby.
“Yes, we heard that during the show of force displayed by the soldiers, there was shooting into the air. But I cannot confirm whether there was any loss of lives or not,” he said.
Efforts to get the army spokesman, Captain Jafaru Nuhu, proved abortive as
he did not pick his phones.
Nonetheless, security operatives were said to have arrested five suspected members of Boko Haram in the internally displaced persons (IDPs)camp in Yola, the Adamawa State capital.
Police spokesman, Assistant Superintendent of Police Michael Haa, confirmed the arrest of some high-risk criminals at the IDPs camp in the state capital.
He said the police were yet to unveil the true identity of the suspects, clarifying that the suspects were high-risk criminals and were being investigated.
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