U.S. offers help to Nigeria to fight terror group


Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton meets with Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Nigeria. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
August 9, 2012

The Obama administration is renewing an offer to help Nigeria marshal military and intelligence resources against a growing extremist threat that U.S. officials fear could spread to neighboring nations, a U.S. official said Thursday.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s brief visit to Nigeria was focused largely on security concerns. U.S. officials have been frustrated by what many see as a slow and parochial response to the spread of a violent Islamist movement in the country’s north.

Clinton also lobbied President Goodluck Jonathan to help move stalled legislation affecting foreign oil companies, the senior State Department official said.

Neither Clinton nor Jonathan directly addressed the threat from the Taliban-like Boko Haram network in remarks after their meeting, but Clinton alluded to the nation’s huge security and corruption problems.

“We want to work with you, and we will be by your side as you make the reforms and take the tough decisions that are necessary,” Clinton said.

Jonathan thanked the U.S. government for its support.

Clinton had argued that the Boko Haram threat could be better managed with more sharing of information within Nigeria’s far-flung security apparatus, and offered U.S. help in setting up an “intelligence fusion cell,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because Clinton’s meetings were private.

“It is in our interests, as well, to see Nigeria get a handle on this problem,” the official said. U.S. assistance could include investigative help to identify Boko Haram militants and forensics services to track the origin of homemade bombs, officials said.

The proposed intelligence center would streamline the collection and analysis of information about the militants that is coming from several Nigerian intelligence and law enforcement agencies, two officials said.

The U.S. government has helped several nations establish such centers, which draw on lessons American officials learned from the intelligence and law enforcement failures surrounding the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

It was unclear whether any new U.S. offers to share intelligence were part of Thursday’s discussions.

“Nigeria faces serious threats from terrorism,” Clinton said during brief remarks to U.S. diplomats and others. She noted a terrorist threat against the U.S. Embassy here earlier this year.

The United States is worried that the Boko Haram threat could spread to Chad, Cameroon, Niger or beyond.

“We are concerned that this kind of radicalism could, in fact, go across borders and undermine the security of neighboring states,” the official said.

Boko Haram wants to create a strict Islamic state in Nigeria’s north. The group has attacked churches this year with bombs and guns, provoking reprisals against innocent Muslims. Hundreds of people have died.

Nigerian military forces are taking the lead against the group, but Jonathan’s government faces internal criticism that the effort is poorly managed. A heavy-handed military response has produced a backlash of resentment.

On Thursday, the Nigerian military swept through Kogi state in search of gunmen behind a massacre Monday in which the attackers blocked exits to a church and fired at trapped worshipers, killing 19.

Nigeria has been cool to earlier offers of help, and relations between the United States and its fourth-largest oil supplier have grown increasingly tense.

The U.S. government was hoping for a more receptive audience from Nigeria’s new national security chief, with whom Clinton met for the first time. A second senior U.S. official said the Nigerian officials that Clinton saw Thursday were interested in further talks.

Clinton also urged action on an oil law that has been stalled in parliament for more than five years. The law would affect foreign firms’ exploration and production activities, and uncertainty over whether there will be new restrictions is hampering business growth.

Anne Gearan is The Washington Post's diplomatic correspondent.
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