'Al-Qaeda of West Africa': African leaders pledge 'total war' on Boko Haram
The summit brought together Hollande and Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, as well as the presidents of Cameroon, Niger, Chad, and Benin. Representatives from the US and UK were also present.
The West African nations vowed to wage war on the Islamist militant group, which they say now has links to Al-Qaeda.
“Boko Haram is no longer a local terrorist group, it is operating clearly as an Al-Qaeda operation. It is an Al-Qaeda of West Africa,” Jonathan said during a news conference in Paris.
“We have shown our commitment for a regional approach. Without West African countries coming together we will not be able to crush these terrorists,” he added.
Both President Idriss Deby of Chad and Cameroon’s President Paul Biya used even stronger language.
“We are here to declare war on Boko Haram,” said Biya.
Biya also stressed that the problem is no longer regional, but also affects the West, recalling the kidnapping of two Italian priests and a Canadian nun by Boko Haram in April.
Idriss echoed Biya's words, saying the West African nations had agreed to “take this situation head on and launch a total war on Boko Haram.”
After the meeting, French President Hollande said that all those present had agreed on a “global and regional action plan.”
“Boko Haram is a major threat for all of western Africa and now central Africa, with proven links to AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) and other terrorist organizations,” said Hollande.
France has about 6,000 soldiers in neighboring Mali, as well as troops in the nearby Central African Republic, and is therefore dedicated to preventing a deterioration in Nigeria's security.
Boko Haram abducted 223 schoolgirls, Muslims and Christians, from their hostel in northeast Nigeria last month, where the radical Islamist group is based.
Thousands of people have been killed by Boko Haram since the group surfaced five years ago. There has been intense criticism of Nigeria’s alleged slow and inadequate reaction to the kidnappings both at home and abroad, which prompted President Goodluck Jonathan to accept intelligence help from the US, France, and Britain.
UK Foreign Minister William Hague told reporters before the start of the meeting that Nigerian security forces have not been organized in a way to deal effectively with Boko Haram.
“Nigerian security forces have not been well structured for this kind of thing and that has been shown by the problem getting worse. We can help with that which is why we are offering to embed military advisors within the Nigerian headquarters,” he said.
Hague added that Nigeria must show leadership and improve cooperation with its neighbors in order to take on the Islamist group. Nigeria and its southern neighbor Cameroon have not always had strong positive relations.
“Nigeria has the main responsibility and must be the leading nation in tackling this and that includes to mount an effective response and improve development,” said Hague.
Nigerian security forces have said they are overwhelmed and outgunned by the Islamist group, and soldiers told the Associated Press that some in the ranks actually fight alongside the Islamists.
President Jonathan was due to visit Chibok – the town where the schoolgirls were abducted – on Friday, but his trip was canceled due to security concerns.
A video emerged earlier this week showing 100 of the girls, in which Boko Haram proposed a prisoner exchange. The group has warned that it will sell the girls into slavery if its demands are not met. However, Jonathan has ruled out the possibility of such negotiations.
News of fresh violence was reported on the Nigeria-Cameroon border as the summit got underway on Saturday.
In the far north of Cameroon, a camp run by a Chinese engineering company was attacked on Friday night, with one person reportedly killed, another injured, and ten missing – including a French family of seven. In a separate incident in Nigeria, 11 people were reportedly killed in an attack on a village. Authorities are blaming both attacks on Boko Haram.