African leaders pledge 'total war' on Boko Haram

Summit in Paris on widening threat from violent rebel group comes just hours after latest suspected attack in Cameroon

Leaders from five African nations pledged Saturday to launch "total war" on Boko Haram, just hours after the violent Nigerian-based rebel group underscored its widening threat to the region with a suspected attack in neighboring Cameroon.

The latest assault reportedly saw armed men kill one soldier and abduct 10 people — including a French family of seven — at a Chinese company’s camp in Cameroon’s far north, according to regional governor Augustine Fonka Awa.

The attack, which authorities attributed to Boko Haram, came ahead of the Paris summit, during which French President Francois Hollande described the group as a “major threat” to west and central Africa. He added that Boko Haram had proven links to Al-Qaeda.

Meanwhile Chad's president Idriss Deby emerged from the meeting stating that there was a new determination to "tackle this situation head on ... to launch a war, a total war on Boko Haram."

A raid by members of the group last month in northern Nigeria, which resulted in nearly 300 girls being abducted, has seen international attention turn to the threat from the rebel group.

France, itself a target of attacks following its military intervention in Mali, assembled the leaders of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Benin Saturday to meet with French, U.S. and British officials in Paris in hopes of coordinating strategy and sharing intelligence to find the kidnapped Nigerian children.

A comprehensive plan to exchange information, coordinate action and protect borders needed to be put in place immediately, Hollande said during the summit. Participants agreed to improve policing of frontiers, share intelligence and trace the weapons and cash that are the group's lifeblood.

Hollande said Boko Haram in Nigeria has ample funds and trained with some of the world's most experienced terrorists. He says it's not clear where the group is getting its money, but weapons have come from chaotic Libya and training took place in Mali before the ouster of its Al-Qaeda-linked leaders.

Boko Haram has offered to exchange the 276 girls who remain captive for jailed insurgents. Otherwise, they will sell the girls into slavery, the group warned.

Outrage over the abducted children has prompted Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, criticized at home for his government's slow response, to accept U.S., British and French intelligence help in the hunt for the girls.

"Nigerian security forces have not been well structured for this kind of thing and that has been shown by the problem getting worse," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters ahead of the meeting. "We can help with that, which is why we are offering to embed military advisers within the Nigerian headquarters."

On Friday, Jonathan canceled a trip to the town where the girls were seized, apparently due to security concerns.

The threat is coupled with a belief that the Nigerian army is underprepared and ill-equipped for the task of cracking down on the rebels.

Signs are growing that some troops are near mutiny, complaining they are overwhelmed and outgunned by Boko Haram members. Soldiers have told The Associated Press that some in the ranks actually fight alongside the group.

Last year, Jonathan said he suspected that Boko Haram members and sympathizers had infiltrated every level of his government and military, including his cabinet.

That complicates attempts to share intelligence. The U.S., France and Britain have all sent experts to help find the girls, but French and American officials have expressed concerns about how any information might be used.

The northeastern region where the girls were kidnapped has suffered five years of increasingly deadly assaults by Boko Haram. Thousands have been killed, including more than 1,500 civilians this year alone, in a five-year campaign to establish an Islamic state in mostly Muslim northeast Nigeria.

French fears

With about 6,000 troops operating in either Mali to the northwest or the Central African Republic to the east, France has a major interest in protecting Nigeria's security.

It fears Boko Haram could spread north into the Sahel, and beyond Cameroon into the CAR.

French diplomats have ruled out any Western military operation but said they expected a regional plan to take shape for countering Boko Haram.

With Nigeria's army seemingly unable to quell the threat from the rebel group, many fear that impoverished Niger and an increasing lawless northern Cameroon could struggle to deal with a serious attack.

Nigeria has complained the far north of Cameroon is being used by Boko Haram armed group members to shelter from a Nigerian military offensive and to transport weapons, and has urged Cameroon to tighten border security.

"The first focus is about the girls, but that requires these countries work together, particularly Cameroon and Nigeria, who have not enjoyed strong, positive relations in recent years," Hague said.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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