As Kerry visits Nigeria, air force says
top Boko Haram fighters killed
Send a link to a friend
[August 24, 2016]
By Lesley Wroughton
SOKOTO, Nigeria (Reuters) - Nigeria's air
force said it had killed a number of senior Boko Haram fighters and
possibly their overall leader, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
pledged to consider ways to ramp up military assistance to Nigeria to
defeat the militant group.
Government planes attacked the Islamist group inside the Sambisa forest
in its northeast heartland on Friday, the air force said, adding that it
had only just confirmed details of the impact of the raid.
"Their leader, so called 'Abubakar Shekau', is believed to be fatally
wounded on his shoulders," the statement by military spokesman Colonel
Sani Kukasheka Usman added, without going into details on the source of
The Obama administration has paid close attention to the fight against
the militant group which has declared allegiance to Islamic State and
destabilized a whole region by attacking Nigeria's neighbors.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari did not address the reported air
raid on the militants and Kerry did not raise it in their meeting in
Abuja, a senior State Department official said. "It didn't come up," the
official said in an interview, "I don't think (Buhari) has enough
information and we didn't have enough information to raise it."
On his first stop in the remote northern city of Sokoto, the top U.S.
diplomat said the struggle against Boko Haram would succeed only if it
tackled the reasons why people join militant groups and gained the
"It is understandable that, in the wake of terrorist activity, some are
tempted to crack down on anyone and everyone who could theoretically
pose some sort of threat. But extremism canít be defeated through
repression or fear," he said.
Nigeria has been pushing the United States to sell it aircraft to take
on Boko Haram - a group that emerged in northeast Borno region seven
years ago. The militants have killed an estimated 15,000 people in their
fight to set up an Islamist state.
Under Nigeria's last president, Goodluck Jonathan, the United States had
blocked arms sales and ended training of Nigerian troops partly over
human rights concerns such as treatment of captured insurgents.
But the new administration argues its human rights record has improved
significantly enough to lift the blockade.
The senior State Department official said there was now a recognition by
the Nigerian military of the need to pay attention to human rights.
"While they are not perfect, they are conscious" of the issue, the
In May, U.S. officials told Reuters that Washington wanted to sell up to
12 A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft to Nigeria in recognition of
Buhari's reform of the country's army. Congress needs to approve the
[to top of second column]
Secretary of State John Kerry is seen on arrival at the Presidential
Villa in Abuja, Nigeria, August 23, 2016. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
Kerry said Buhari had made "a strong start at all levels of
government" since taking office in May 2015, without referring
specifically to rights abuses.
In the meeting with Buhari at the sprawling presidential villa,
Kerry promised to look at ways to ramp up military cooperation with
Nigeria to "bring this fight to a close," the State Department
official said, adding that the militant group no longer held any
territory in the north.
Kerry "made very, very strong commitments to the (Nigerian)
government that we are going to look at what we can do differently,"
the official said, adding that the package for the aircraft was
still being considered and needed congressional approval.
"We are working with (Nigeria) to make sure they can afford it, and
they know how to use" the aircraft, the official added.
There was no immediate reaction from Boko Haram, which communicates
with the media only by videos. The military has reported the death
of Boko Haram's Shekau in the past, only to have a man purporting to
be him appear later, apparently unharmed, making video statements.
There have been recent signs of rifts between at least parts of Boko
Haram and Islamic State. The global militant organization announced
a new leader for what it described as its West African operations
this month - an account that Abubakar Shekau appeared to contradict
in a later video message.
(Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh; Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha
and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Richard Balmforth)
[© 2016 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2016 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.