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Islamist attacks draw Nigeria and US military closer

Dealing with Islamist groups such as Nigeria's Boko Haram will require more than a purely military approach, although Nigeria welcomes training from the US military's Africa Command.  

By Scott BaldaufStaff Writer / February 21, 2012

Soldier walks past a damage car following an explosion at Christ embassy church in Suleja, Nigeria, on Sunday, Feb. 19. A bomb planted by an abandoned car exploded outside a church in the middle of a worship service Sunday near Nigeria's capital, wounding five people amid a continuing wave of violence by a radical Islamist sect, authorities and witnesses said.

Sunday Aghaeze/AP

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With an Islamist militant group on a killing spree in its northern reaches, Nigeria would appear to be just the kind of country that the US military’s Africom was designed to help out.

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Launched in October 2008, the 2,100-strong US Africa Command – based at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart-Moehringen, Germany – sends US Army trainers to the African continent. The personnel equip, assist, and train the armies of partner governments in information sharing, counterinsurgency, logistical support, as well as conducting joint exercises. Among the most eager participants are nations of the north African Sahel region, from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east, many of which face Islamist insurgent groups that appear to be growing in sophistication and violent capabilities.

But dealing with a group like Boko Haram – a violent Islamist group that has admitted carrying out a series of attacks in Maiduguri that killed more than 30 this week, and more than 200 since the beginning of the year – will require more than a merely military strategy, experts say. Any successful strategy will require efforts to help Nigeria’s poorer and weaker neighbors to patrol their own territory better, along with civilian efforts in Nigeria’s own law enforcement and financial regulatory agencies to sniff out domestic support for the group, and to cut it off from its funding sources.

Nigeria’s military needs more than the kind of counterinsurgency training and equipment that the $300-million Africom has to offer, says J. Peter Pham, director of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

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