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U.S. seeks to approve of 12 A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft to Nigeria.


The U.S.
administration is seeking to approve a sale of as many as 12 A-29 Super
Tucano light attack aircraft to Nigeria to aid its battle against the
extremist group Boko Haram, U.S. officials say, in a vote of confidence
in President Muhammadu Buhari’s drive to reform the country’s
corruption-tainted military.

Washington
also is dedicating more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance
assets to the campaign against the Islamist militants in the region and
plans to provide additional training to Nigerian infantry forces, the
officials told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss
the administration’s plans.

The
possible sale — which the officials said was favored within the U.S.
administration but is subject to review by Congress — underscores the
deepening U.S. involvement in helping governments in north and west
Africa fight extremist groups.

U.S.
Navy Vice Admiral Michael Franken, a deputy commander of the Pentagon’s
Africa Command, told a Washington forum last week that there now are
6,200 U.S. troops – most of them Special Operations Forces – operating
from 26 locations on the continent.

The
widening U.S. military cooperation is a political victory for Buhari,
who took office last year pledging to crack down on the rampant
corruption that has undermined the armed forces in Africa’s most
populous country.

“The Buhari
administration I think has really reenergized the bilateral relationship
in a fundamental way,” one U.S. official said.

The
previous Nigerian government of Goodluck Jonathan had scorned the
United States for blocking arms sales partly because of human rights
concerns. It also criticized Washington for failing to speed the sharing
of intelligence.

The souring relations hit a low at the end of 2014 when U.S. military training of Nigerian forces was abruptly halted.

That
is changing under Buhari, whose crackdown on corruption has led to a
raft of charges against top national security officials in the previous
government.

“Buhari made clear
from the get-go that his number one priority was reforming the military
to defeat Boko Haram … And he sees us as part of that solution,” a
second U.S. official said.

Still, serious human rights abuses committed
by security forces, which include police, increased in 2015, according
to the U.S. State Department’s annual human rights report.

Many
of the funds alleged to have been misused and siphoned off by corrupt
Nigerian officials under Jonathan’s government were earmarked for the
fight against Boko Haram, which has killed thousands in northeast
Nigeria and neighboring countries in the last seven years. Last year,
the group pledged loyalty to Islamic State.

“No wonder they weren’t doing well with respect to Boko Haram. (They) didn’t have the ammunition,” the first official said.

The
accused officials include Nigeria’s former chief of defense staff, who
last month pleaded not guilty to using money allocated for Nigeria’s air
force to buy a mansion and a commercial plot of land and build a
shopping mall.

ARMED AIRCRAFT

Congress has not yet been formally notified of the possible U.S. approval of the sale of Embraer’s (EMBR3.SA) A29 Super Tucano turboprop aircraft to Nigeria.

The
Tucanos can be used for training, surveillance or attack. They can be
armed with two wing-mounted machine guns and can carry up to 1,550 Kg
(3,417 pounds) of weapons. (See Factbox:)
One
production line for the Super Tucano is in Florida, where it is built
with U.S. firm Sierra Nevada Corp. The aircraft that would be sold to
Nigeria come with a “very basic armed configuration,” one of the U.S.
officials said.

The sale could
offer Nigeria a more maneuverable aircraft that can stay aloft for
extended periods to target Boko Haram formations. Officials did not
disclose the cost of the planes to be sold to Nigeria.

However,
a contract for 20 similar aircraft sold to Afghanistan was valued at
about $428 million at the time it was announced in 2013.

J. Peter Pham,
director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council think tank, said
any sale of Super Tucano aircraft would demonstrate improving ties, but
cautioned that their ability to counter Boko Haram could be limited.

“When
you’re fighting a group that’s no longer holding towns and villages,
that’s no longer massing forces in a conventional way, the aircraft –
attack aircraft – have a much more limited role in that kind of fight,”
Pham said.

African armies routed the militant group from much of its self-proclaimed caliphate in northeastern Nigeria last year.

Its
fighters have since regrouped and intensified their attacks in the Lake
Chad Basin, threatening regional security, despite the creation of a
9,000-strong African multinational force to counter it.

The
U.S. military expects to train a second Nigerian infantry battalion
once the current group completes its training later this year, the first
official said.

The officials did
not specify what type of additional intelligence, surveillance and
reconnaissance assets would be provided to bolster the regional fight
against Boko Haram.

They
acknowledge that they have a tough task combating the group, which is
sending women and children strapped with explosives to blow up civilian
targets such as marketplaces.

“Boko
Haram has morphed back in to what it had earlier been, not a holder of
large amounts of territory, but rather a generator of asymmetric
attacks,” the second official said.

Nigerian soldiers hold up a Boko Haram flag that they had seized in the recently retaken town of Damasak, Nigeria, March 18, 2015. REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun
 

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