A senior Nigerian officer has been appointed to take charge of a long-delayed enhanced regional military force against Boko Haram, Abuja said on Wednesday.
The 8,700-strong force of military personnel, police and civilians includes Nigeriaand neighbouring Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin.
All five countries agreed earlier this year to boost cooperation to contain the regional threat posed by the Islamist group, whose violent insurgency has killed at least 15,000 since 2009.
A military coalition of Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon has been involved in operations against the militants in northeast Nigeria and border regions since February, with reported success.
The MNJTF, which was agreed in May last year supposed to have been operational in November, has been backed by the African Union as well as Britain, the United States and France.
Nigeria‘s defence spokesman Chris Olukolade said it would be split into three sectors “to achieve more effect in its operations, with one of the sectors’ headquarters retained in Baga”.
Co-operation between Nigeria, Chad and Niger dating back to 1998 in the Lake Chad region where all three countries share a border, collapsed in January after Boko Haram attacked its base in Baga.
Boko Haram fighters were later seen in a video at the base, helping themselves to dozens of assault rifles, boxes of grenades and bullets, rocket launchers and other hardware.
A decision to base the headquarters of the new MNJTF in N’Djamena was taken soon afterwards. Chad’s capital is home to the French-led Operation Barkhane against jihadist in the Sahel region.
“The MNJTF will work and collaborate with the forces of the member countries in the fight against terrorists,” Olukolade said.