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U.S. looks to sell ground attack aircraft to Nigeria, report says

The Trump administration is likely to sell roughly a dozen ground attack aircraft to Nigeria for the country’s fight against Boko Haram militants, the Associated Press reported Monday.

The proposed sale of Embraer A-29 Super Tucanos has been in the works for more than a year. In May, Reuters reported that Obama administration officials — buoyed by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s military and anti-corruption reforms — had warmed to the idea of the sale.

According to the AP report, Congress will be notified of the deal “within weeks.”

In past years, Nigerian military forces have reportedly killed hundreds of civilians during operations against Boko Haram. The civilian casualties have made the sale of the A-29s controversial among human rights groups. Additionally, Amnesty International has repeatedly accused the Nigerian government of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity for its maltreatment of prisoners, accounts of torture and mass executions.

“As a matter of policy, we do not comment on proposed defense sales until they have been formally notified to Congress,” said a State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an arms sale that had not yet been made public. “More broadly however, we can say that the United States is committed to working with Nigeria and its neighbors to combat Boko Haram, protect civilians, respond to the humanitarian emergency in the region, and help restore governance in the affected areas.”

In the past two years, Nigeria, in tandem with Chad and Cameroon, has made progress against Boko Haram. Yet as the group loses territory, the need for aircraft such as the A-29 dwindles. In November, Matthew Page, the State Department’s former expert on Nigeria, wrote that Boko Haram has increasingly become less vulnerable to traditional military tactics as the group has turned to asymmetric attacks and dispersed.

In January, just days before President Trump took office, the United States donated 24 up-armored transport vehicles, known as MRAPs, to the Nigerian military through the Excess Defense Articles program.

The Nigerian air force primarily operates a mix of aging Chinese fighter jets and Russian helicopter transports and gunships, according to the 2017 International Institute for Strategic Studies’ publication that tracks countries’ militaries, known as the Military Balance.

The small, single-engine A-29 would probably fill a gap in the Nigerian air force’s capabilities. However, with relatively few western aircraft in its fleet and sporadic corruption problems, it is unclear whether the Nigerian air force would be able to properly maintain the aircraft.

The A-29 has been used to increasing success by the fledgling Afghan Air Force. With the right armament, targeting equipment and a properly trained pilot, the A-29 can drop munitions with relatively high degrees of precision.

The sale of the A-29s comes less than a month after the State Department moved to lift human rights conditions on a sale of F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain.