Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

African Union agrees to send 7,500 troops to fight Boko Haram

Chad drives Boko Haram fighters out of border area, as African leaders fear the group will threaten the whole continent

African leaders have agreed to send 7,500 troops to fight the Boko Haram insurgency in northeast Nigeria, an African Union official said Saturday.

The move came after the council urged heads of state to endorse the deployment of troops from five West African countries to fight the armed group, said the head of the African Union's Peace and Security Council, Smail Chergui.

Leaders of the 54-nation African Union (AU) are meeting in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa for a two-day summit that ends Saturday. The group plans to meet next week in Cameroon to draw up a "concept of operations" to cover strategy, rules of engagement, command and control, and other issues related to the fight against Boko Haram, Chergui said.

Senior officials told Reuters that each of the five nations would contribute a battalion and each contingent would be based within its own national borders, with operations coordinated from N'Djamena, the capital of Chad. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon earlier said that he supported the AU's move to send a force to fight Boko Haram.

The group’s attacks in northern Nigeria have intensified over the last few weeks as the country prepares for elections on Feb. 14. More than 2,000 people may have been killed in early January as Boko Haram razed at least 16 towns and villages in the area. On Sunday, the group launched an offensive on the northeastern city of Maiduguri, killing some 200 combatants. Boko Haram's five-year uprising has killed about 10,000 people in the last year and displaced at least 1 million.

The new agreement by the AU comes as African nations open up a new front in the decade-long fight against Boko Haram. On Thursday, Chad sent a warplane and troops that drove Boko Haram fighters out of Malam Fatori, a town on its border with northeastern Nigeria. It was the first offensive by foreign troops against the group on Nigerian soil.

Chad's intervention against Boko Haram is an embarrassment to Nigeria's once-mighty military, which has been has been brought low by corruption and politics and widely criticized for its failure to act decisively to stop Boko Haram’s advance. While President Goodluck Jonathan has repeatedly stated that Boko Haram is an issue of "international" concern, he did not address the AU summit. He has faced widespread public criticism, at home and abroad, for his response to Boko Haram, and is being challenged by Muhammad Buhari, a former military dictator, in the February elections. 

Chad's operation against Boko Haram was a result of a bilateral arrangement between the governments of Chad and Cameroon. Earlier this month, suspected Boko Haram fighters from Nigeria kidnapped around 80 people, most of them children, and killed three others in a cross-border attack on villages in northern Cameroon.

Chad's President Idriss Deby said on Friday that action that had to be taken. “We have seen too many meetings and no concrete action,” Deby said. “Today, there are four countries affected by Boko Haram, but tomorrow it may be a continental problem.”

Al Jazeera and wire services

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