By KINGSLEY OMONOBI, Luka Binniyat, VICTORIA OJEME & Erunke Joseph
…As Senate okays deployment of troops *Why we are joining the fight in Mali —COAS *FG seeks EU, US, Canada’s support
ABUJA — Following the directive by President Goodluck Jonathan to the Armed Forces to commence the deployment of 900 troops to participate in the military operation to liberate Mali from Islamist rebels, the Nigerian Air Force, yesterday, commenced moves to deploy two of its fighter aircraft and a transport aircraft for the combat operations.
The aircraft are the F7 supersonic jet fighter, the latest and most modern in the NAF inventory, and the Alpha jet fighter aircraft aka ‘Dudu Bird’ which fast tracked the surrender of the rebels in both the Liberian and Sierra Leonean civil wars.
This came as Senate, yesterday, approved the deployment of 1,200 Nigerian troops to join French forces that are currently staging an onslaught against the Islamist militia in Mali.
Similarly, Chief of Army Staff, COAS, General Azubuike Ihejirika, yesterday, explained why Nigeria is a formidable part of the planned war against Islamic rebels in Northern Mali, saying it was to clean Mali of training camps where Islamic terrorists are trained to attack Nigeria.
The COAS spoke in Kaduna State while fielding questions from reporters after his farewell speech to the 906 troops at the Nigerian Army Cantonment, Jaji, Kaduna.
Meanwhile, confirming the deployments of two aircraft, yesterday, Director of Air Force Public Relations, Air Commodore Yusuf Anas, said already, a contingent of 66 officers and airmen departed Port Harcourt, Rivers State for Mali, yesterday.
He said the officers and men were ferried by the Air Force G222 Transport Aircraft, and were addressed by the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, who admonished them to be good ambassadors of Nigeria .
At press time, the fighter jets, Alpha Jet and F7 Supersonic, were on their way to join French fighter jets already in Mali.
Why we are joining the fight in Mali — COAS
Meanwhile, the first batch of 190 soldiers and officers who are part of the 900 soldiers earmarked for deployment to Mali were also addressed by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Ihejirika before their departure.
He said: “Our effort in Mali is to complement our effort at home, to bring peace. We have evidence that some of the terrorists operating in Nigeria today are trained in Mali.
“As at yesterday (Wednesday), we are aware of the influx of some terrorists into the country trained in Mali. So, Nigeria will not only be supporting the resolution of the international community, but also enhancing its own internal security and that of its immediate neighbours.”
Addressing the troops of Nigerian Battalion 1 of the Africa-led International Support Mission to Mali, he said: “Once an apparent pillar of democracy in West Africa, Mali has drastically deteriorated in 2012, with a coup which brought the elected government in March 2012 by a combination of armed groups to take over the vast areas of the desert north soon after. This, to say the least, is a threat to peace in the region and the world at large.
“African nations and the international community have expressed growing concern over the continued occupation of Mali’s north since it could provide a safe haven to Al-Qaeda linked extremist groups and criminal gangs.
“The African Union had consequently endorsed a plan for a military intervention to regain control of Mali’s vast desert north from Islamic rebels and restore the authority of the state.”
Senate okays deployment of troops
The Senate approved the deployment, yesterday, after deliberating behind closed doors for almost two hours.
President Goodluck Jonathan had written to the Senate requesting its consent to deploy troops to Mali on limited combat duties.
The approval came just as the President has asked for a more robust response to global terrorism.
He stated this while condemning Wednesday’s kidnapping of British, French and other foreign workers in eastern Algeria.
Citing the deployment of Nigeria’s troops to Mali as a sign of the country’s commitment to the war on terrorism, Jonathan, who was meeting with the new British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Andrew Pocock, said Nigeria would continue to play a part in maintaining global peace.
Jonathan for ECOWAS extraordinary session
Also in a bid to further affirm what role ECOWAS will play in the Malian conflict, President Jonathan will today, travel to Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire for an Extraordinary Session of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government ahead of the full deployment of the region’s troops to Mali.
A statement by Special Adviser to the President on Media, Dr Reuben Abati, stated that President Jonathan would be accompanied to the meeting by the Minister of State for Defence, Erelu Olusola Obada and the Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Ola Sa’ad Ibrahim.
FG seeks EU, US, Canada’s support
According to a statement by spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Ogbole Ode, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, told the envoys that the crisis in Mali was an issue of deep concern not only to West Africa, but also the rest of Africa, Europe and the rest of the world.
He maintained that the military operations by the French to dislodge Islamic militants in northern Mali deserved the unflinching support of the international community.
According to the the statement, Ashiru solicited the assistance and support of the countries represented by the various envoys.
The heads of mission pledged their unwavering support for the military action taken by France and Nigeria under the auspices of ECOWAS African-led International Support Mission in Mali, AFISMA.
They advised that the military strategy should also be pursued along with the political process, which should involve the various parties in Mali.