The U.S. State Department is flatly denying a published report that alleges President Obama is preparing American troops for a “special intervention” in Nigeria.
The Nigerian Compass newspaper says it bases its story on comments by the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) chief, General William Ward. The Compass says Mr. Obama would send troops to Nigeria if the country broke up and widespread chaos threatened oil production.
Russell Brooks, press officer for the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, describes U.S. government reaction to the story.
“In a word, flabbergasted. This story is a complete fabrication. There are no U.S. troops being prepared to intervene in Nigeria. We have checked with AFRICOM and General Ward has made no such statement,” he says.
Brooks says had the Compass reporter checked his facts, “he would have learned that, in fact, there are no troops assigned to AFRICOM for them to put on alert.”
The State Department press officer says the “fabrication…is made up from speculation about concerns that the U.S. may have about the situation in Nigeria.”
On the record
The United States has publicly addressed its concerns about Nigeria’s political situation and the recent violence in and around Jos.
“Yes, the U.S. does have legitimate concerns about the political situation there. And we have expressed those on the record. And we are doing what we can to encourage Nigeria to remain on a democratic path, to retain its constitutional values. And we have done nothing to suggest that our concerns are only based on our desire to retain it as a source of dependable oil production or that we are only concerned about the potential for terrorism coming from Nigeria,” he says.
Russell says the United States is concerned that the creation of AFRICOM will be misinterpreted as an attempt to “bring the war on terrorism to the African continent, so the U.S. could more easily intervene into conflicts.”
Instead, he says, AFRICOM aims to “increase the capacity of African militaries to conduct legitimate external and internal defense, for instance, to combat terrorism, to protect…borders, to respond in a case of humanitarian disasters.”
The U.S. has not contacted Acting President Goodluck Jonathan about the Nigerian Compass report.
“At this stage, I would not believe that is necessary. We have frequent contact with Nigerian government…. If they were to believe there was any basis, I’m sure they would contact the appropriate individuals and ascertain the truth of the matter,” he says.
Brooks says he wants to reassure average Nigerians, who don’t have ready access to U.S. officials.