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Funding, Suicide Attacks Remain Challenge for African Force Fighting Boko Haram


FILE - Nigerian soldiers hold up a Boko Haram flag that they had seized in the retaken town of Damasak, Nigeria, March 18, 2015.

Boko Haram has lost as much as 70 percent of its war equipment and fighters. That's the assessment of defense officials from the five countries involved in the joint task force fighting the militants. But the officials, who gathered in Cameroon this week to discuss the war effort, admit their own troops face challenges, mostly involving funding.

Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin contribute the 7,000 soldiers that make up the multinational joint task force battling Boko Haram.

Defense officials from the five countries said this week that economic challenges caused by the global slump in commodity prices are taking a toll on the war effort.

They said it has become difficult to mount attacks on Boko Haram locations, as they lack the resources to keep adequate standby troops stationed at frontline bases, like Mora in northern Cameroon.

Cameroonian General Donatien Melingui Nouma, speaking on behalf of the group, said they are a sub-regional force and do not have the same resources as a U.N. peacekeeping mission. But he said they will not relent because the Lake Chad Basin Commission member states are suffering from severe terrorism threats. He said they received contributions from the international community like the European Union and the United Kingdom and are expecting more.

FILE - Chadian women walk past destroyed homes, in the Lake Chad shore village of N'Gouboua, March 5, 2015, following a scorched-earth attack by Boko Haram militants.
FILE - Chadian women walk past destroyed homes, in the Lake Chad shore village of N'Gouboua, March 5, 2015, following a scorched-earth attack by Boko Haram militants.

The Lake Chad Basin Commission created the regional force in 2015 with an anticipated budget of $700 million. But the defense officials said less than 50 percent of the promised money has been delivered.

In June, Cameroon arrested 30 of its soldiers in the task force after they protested over salary, saying they are not being paid enough.

This week, the defense ministers resolved that each country will negotiate salary agreements with their respective militaries, while the regional force will provide additional weapons to the troops.

The joint task force has succeeded in retaking much of the territory Boko Haram once held in Nigeria. However, that success has brought fresh challenges, said General Ahmen Mohammed, who is in charge of training and operations at the Nigerian defense headquarters.

"They have been degraded substantially, but because of that they had now broken into smaller sprinters and it is becoming much more difficult to harness our resources to deal with them decisively," Mohammed said.

The defense chiefs said these factions lack coordination and have resorted to regular suicide attacks in recent months, which have caused more people to flee their homes, intensifying the regional humanitarian crisis.

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