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'War on Boko Haram': African, Western nations unify in hunt for Nigerian girls

By Michael Martinez, Pierre Meilhan and Faith Karimi, CNN
updated 7:02 PM EDT, Sat May 17, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: France will not intervene militarily in Nigeria, president says
  • Cameroon soldier killed, 10 Chinese missing, one injured after Boko Haram attack
  • Boko Haram acts as an al Qaeda operation in central Africa, Nigeria says
  • "We're here to declare war on Boko Haram," Cameroon leader says at summit

(CNN) -- Nigeria and four neighboring countries will share intelligence and border surveillance in the hunt for more than 200 Nigerian girls still held by Boko Haram, and Western nations will provide technical expertise and training to the new regional African effort against the extreme Islamists.

The plan was announced Saturday at the conclusion of a security summit in Paris hosted by French President Fran├žois Hollande.

Hollande described Boko Haram as now a bigger terror threat than first portrayed -- beyond Nigeria and even Africa.

"Boko Haram is an organization that is linked to terrorism in Africa and whose will is to destabilize the north of Nigeria, certainly, and all the neighboring countries of Nigeria and beyond that region," he said.

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Women in Abuja, Nigeria, hold a candlelight vigil on Wednesday, May 14, one month after nearly 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. The abductions have attracted national and international outrage. Women in Abuja, Nigeria, hold a candlelight vigil on Wednesday, May 14, one month after nearly 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. The abductions have attracted national and international outrage.
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
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Photos: Nigerians protest over kidnapped girls Photos: Nigerians protest over kidnapped girls

Cameroon President Paul Biya was more forceful in describing how partnering countries will "take stronger measures to eradicate" the extremist Islamist group.

"We're here to declare war on Boko Haram," Biya said.

As the summit took place Saturday, reports emerged about the latest apparent Boko Haram attack, this one in Cameroon.

Hollande said one Cameroonian soldier was killed in the Friday night attack against Chinese nationals in northern Cameroon, which is known as a stronghold for the Islamic extremists.

Ten Chinese nationals are missing after the attack, a Chinese official said Saturday. One injured person was being treated by a Chinese medical team in the Chadian capital of N'Djamena, said Lu Quinjiang, first counselor of the Chinese Embassy in Yaounde, Cameroon's capital.

Nigerian military

France "will not intervene" militarily in Nigeria because Nigeria "has military forces that are available and efficient," Hollande said during an interview with France 24 that aired late Saturday.

The Nigerian military suffered an embarrassing setback in April when it retracted a report that nearly all the kidnapped girls were released. In fact, the girls, taken from a boarding school in Chibok, were still missing.

Nigeria now has 20,000 troops, plus aircraft and intelligence sources, in parts of its nation where Boko Haram is active, said President Goodluck Jonathan.

"Boko Haram is no longer a local terror group," Jonathan said. "It is clearly operating as an al Qaeda operation" in central Africa, he said.

"The major challenge that we have faced in our search and rescue operation so far has been the deluge of misinformation about the whereabouts of the girls and the circumstances of their disappearance," the President added.

Boko Haram's guerrilla campaign has claimed 12,000 lives, with 8,000 people injured or maimed since 2009, Jonathan said.

Nigeria will coordinate patrols, pool intelligence and exchange weapons and human trafficking information with Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, according to the agreement reached at the summit.

France, the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union "will coordinate their support for this regional cooperation" through technical expertise, training programs and support for border-area management programs, a summit statement said.

The participants agreed that the United Kingdom will host a follow-up meeting next month to review the action plan.

In the meantime, participants committed to accelerating international sanctions against Boko Haram and its leaders through the United Nations.

Boko Haram translates as "Western education is a sin" in the Hausa language. The militant group says its aim is to impose a stricter enforcement of Sharia law across Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, which is split between a majority Muslim north and a mostly Christian south. Boko Haram's attacks have intensified in recent years.

The summit

The Nigerian President joined Saturday's summit of African presidents and U.S., UK and EU representatives on the growing threat from Boko Haram as American officials expressed concerns about his military's ability to rescue hundreds of schoolgirls abducted last month.

The terror group abducted an estimated 276 girls on April 14 from a boarding school in Chibok in northeastern Nigeria.

Dozens escaped, but more than 200 girls are still missing. Nigerians have accused their government of not acting swiftly or efficiently enough to protect the girls seized in the dead of night.

And the criticism shows no signs of abating, even from allies who've pledged to help in the rescue mission. The United States, China and Britain are among a handful of nations providing advice.

The United States is using drones and manned surveillance aircraft in the search, but has said Nigeria is reluctant to use the information provided.

"The division in the north that mainly is engaging with Boko Haram, the 7th Division, has recently shown signs of real fear," said Alice Friend, African Affairs director for the Department of Defense. "They do not have the capabilities, the training or the equipment that Boko Haram does, and Boko Haram is exceptionally brutal and indiscriminate in their attacks."

"I would say an even greater concern is the incapacity of the Nigerian military and the Nigerian government's failure to provide leadership to the military," Friend said Thursday at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

For now, the United States is not sharing raw intelligence from its surveillance aircraft with Nigeria's armed forces because the countries have not established the intelligence-sharing protocols and safeguards needed for such an agreement, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said Wednesday.

There's also concern about how the information will be used by a military that's been accused of human rights violations itself.

"We have sought assurances from them... that they will use any information that we pass to them from this (intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance) support in a manner consistent with international humanitarian and human rights law," Friend explained.

Nigeria has been accused of not doing enough to protect the girls abducted from a militant hotbed that was already under a state of emergency.

But a spokesman for the military defended the nation's response.

"Borno State is under a state of emergency, over 90,000 square kilometers," said Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade. "Are you saying we should deploy ... soldiers in over 90,000 kilometers -- one soldier per kilometer? You can imagine that expense for one of the states under a state of emergency."

CNN's Mariano Castillo, Nana Karikari-apau and Christabelle Fombu contributed to this report.

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