Chad is not only leading the regional military assault on the Boko Haram terrorist group but it is also said to be leading the drafting of a United Nations Security Council resolution to authorize the multinational task force in West Africa already battling Boko Haram, a UN diplomat confirmed.
The resolution is being pushed for a possible vote this month, because France, a permanent member of the council, is president in March and hopes to usher the document through before the country cedes the rotating seat to Jordan in April.
France is providing major military assistance to the multinational task force through its special force, Operation Barkhane, which is based in Chad and is operating across the Sahara Desert and the Sahel belt, running right below the Sahara.
The resolution is being negotiated at a tricky time, as the multinational task force of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria has been attacking Boko Haram intensely in the last few weeks and as the Nigerian presidential election looms later this month.
Nigeria has been taking towns back recently from Boko Haram’s long grip in northeast Nigeria, while Chad and Niger have been successfully chasing out Boko Haram from Nigerian border towns, like Damasak. Cooperation among the task force group has not been smooth. After Chad and Niger liberated Damasak, for example, the Nigerian military did not show up to help, infuriating Chad and Niger.
In another border attack, Reuters reported that on March 22, Chad and Niger used helicopters to bomb the Nigerian village of Djaboullam, across the way from the Niger town of Diffa, killing several dozen militants. Diffa is the home of a military base for Niger; Chadian, US and French soldiers are also currently ensconced there.
The main sticking point on the resolution negotiations, the diplomat said, is whether it will have a Chapter VII mandate under the UN Charter — authorizing use of military force. One expert on the Security Council said it would be impossible for the draft resolution to approve the task force without such a mandate. What might happen instead is that the resolution could be passed without an explicit Chapter VII reference but could be implied in the text’s language, like authorizing member states to take certain actions (or desist from taking such actions).
The resolution may also allow the creation of a UN trust fund to provide financial support to the task force, although apparently the five countries that have agreed to participate in the coalition — not only Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria but also Benin — might find this unsatisfactory.
The diplomat said that all five veto holders on the Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States), are committed to degrading Boko Haram, so only about three elected members are uneasy with a Chapter VII resolution. Nigeria, which is an elected council member, could presumably be a holdout. The diplomat would not provide such details.
Nigeria, to the dismay of council members, has been conspicuously quiet on the topic of Boko Haram in meetings. Some observers contend that the council’s seeming passivity on Boko Haram, whose actual numbers and makeup are unknown, is related to Nigeria’s reluctance to allow outside interference.
“Nigeria has been quiet about Boko Haram,” the diplomat said, adding that the country has not been open to talking about the terrorists in the Security Council, although Nigeria is part of the negotiations on the resolution – because it has been “kind of forced to do it.”
The document would approve a regional task force of 10,000 troops drawn from the five countries, based on a proposal that was passed recently by the African Union.
Chad, operating from its capital in N’Djamena, has been heading the military intervention against Boko Haram this year, with Niger and Cameroon as partners. Nigerian troops have until the last six weeks not attacked Boko Haram with zeal, thus leaving the difficult task along the border regions to its neighbors.
Yet Nigeria has taken back about 30 towns from Boko Haram in the last month or so, say sources in Diffa, the town in Niger near Djaboullam, which was bombed on March 22. Diffa was ambushed by Boko Haram in February, but the terrorists have since been since flushed out. Apparently, Boko Haram still controls some border towns, but many of its members have fled to the bush.
Nigeria’s military surge has been criticized for being timed to its presidential election on March 28, which had been delayed for six weeks. The election adds another element to the volatile mix in the region, and the UN has sent its top political affairs adviser, Jeffrey Feltman, an American, to Abuja, the Nigerian capital, to message the importance of a violent-free election — before and after — in this country of 173 million.
Joe Biden, the US vice president, recently conveyed a similar note of deterrence, as did the International Criminal Court prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.
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Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.