A Nigerian commander was chosen Thursday to lead a new coalition force to fight Boko Haram. Maj. Gen. Iliya Abbah will head the 8,700-strong Multinational Joint Task Force, which includes soldiers from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, the Nigerian military told Agence France-Presse.
Prior to his appointment, Abbah was a military secretary in the Nigerian army and had previously led military operations in the oil-rich Niger Delta region, Nigerian military spokesman Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade said. The new regional force will be based out of Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, and the troops are expected to be deployed into battle soon, though no date was specified for tactical reasons, AFP reported.
Abbah’s appointment came after Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari appointed the former commander of the Multinational Joint Task Force, Maj. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai, as chief of staff of Nigeria’s army. In recent weeks, Buhari has reorganized the military and replaced its leaders in an effort to clean up the army’s crooked image and to confront Boko Haram’s six-year insurgency once and for all. Since Buhari took office in May, the Islamist militant group has unleashed a surge of violence that has killed 800 people in just two months, AFP reported.
Buhari traveled to neighboring Cameroon on Wednesday to discuss the new coalition force with Cameroonian President Paul Biya. Tensions between the two countries had strained the old regional force after Nigeria accused the Central African country of not doing enough to prevent Boko Haram from seeking refuge in Cameroon. Buhari has already met with his counterparts in Chad and Niger, two other neighboring nations that have also suffered from attacks by the Nigeria-based insurgents.
The Nigerian leader is expected to visit neighboring Benin on Saturday for talks with the West African nation’s president, Thomas Boni Yayi, according to Nigerian newspaper Daily Post. In February, Benin along with Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, agreed to form an African Union force to tackle the terror group, which has claimed at least 15,000 lives, mainly in northeast Nigeria.