International
Joe Penny/Reuters

Nigeria mulls Sri Lankan military strategies in bid to counter Boko Haram

Amid anger over failure to find abducted girls, military looks to controversial tactics that crushed Tamil Tigers

Nigeria is taking advice from Sri Lanka over how to counter armed group Boko Haram, the defense ministry in Abuja has confirmed — a controversial move, given that the U.N. is pursuing a war crimes probe over the island nation’s crushing of Tamil Tiger rebels.

Armed groups aligned with Boko Haram — which is seeking to carve out a hard-line Islamic state in northern Nigeria — are believed responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians since 2009, and the movement has stepped up its rampage of killings and abductions in recent months. Criticism of the Nigerian government’s inability to contain the threat has increased, with widespread protests after the kidnapping of more than 300 girls from a school in April. More than 200 of the girls are still missing.

The incident, alongside almost daily attacks and bombings by Boko Haram, has exposed severe weaknesses in Abuja's security forces and heaped political pressure on President Goodluck Jonathan, who has declared a "full-scale operation" against the group.

In a bid to step up its response, high-ranking members of Nigeria's military met with a Sri Lankan delegation to discuss counterinsurgency tactics, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement late on Thursday.

The chief of Nigeria's defense staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, said it was "seriously considering" methods employed by Sri Lanka, including "total security," or focusing all of the country's resources on the military.

Sri Lanka's tactics, however, were much criticized internationally for resulting in the loss of civilian lives. The United Nations in March launched an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by both sides.

For nearly 30 years, Sri Lanka fought the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which wanted to create a separate state for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority.

It crushed the LTTE and killed its entire leadership on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon in 2009, amid Western calls for a cease-fire to protect civilians held as shields by the Tigers.

Tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the final months of the civil war.

Nigeria's armed services have been hamstrung by a lack of investment in military training, failure to maintain equipment and dwindling cooperation with Western forces.

"As far as the government's response is concerned, it really exposes the severe limitations of the military," Martin Roberts, a senior Africa analyst at research firm IHS told Reuters in an interview on Thursday.

"We've also seen reports of various mutinies taking place ... illustrating the disconnect between the rank and file and the leadership."

Even before its military considered emulating Sri Lanka’s controversial tactics, Nigeria’s government had been accused of human rights abuses and inefficacy.  

Human Rights Watch’s 2013 report on the country said that the government’s failure to prosecute crimes consistently or address poverty, corruption and other issues has created a security vacuum, which groups like Boko Haram have taken advantage of.

Boko Haram’s violence has rocked the country for years, but the group has become increasingly brazen in recent months, killing hundreds in blasts and mass shootings and kidnapping hundreds.

Protests over the Nigerian government’s inability to stop Boko Haram have also increased in frequency and fervor, but the Nigerian government has responded by dismissing protesters and jailing some.

African and Western officials this week pledged at a meeting in London to give Nigeria more military and tactical support to help combat Boko Haram and find the kidnapped schoolgirls.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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