Trump to Sell High-Tech Planes to Nigeria to Fight Boko Haram

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  •  As Somalia pirates freed hijacked Indian ship, but take crew

The Trump administration will move forward with the sale of high-tech aircraft to the Nigerian government for its campaign against Boko Haram Islamic extremists despite concerns over abuses committed by the African nation’s security forces, according to U.S. officials.

Congress is expected to receive formal notification within weeks, setting in motion a deal with Nigeria that the Obama administration had planned to approve at the very end of Barack Obama’s presidency. The arrangement will call for Nigeria to purchase up to 12 Embraer A-29 Super Tucano aircraft with sophisticated targeting gear for nearly $600 million, one of the officials said.

The officials were not authorized to discuss the terms of the sale publicly and requested anonymity to speak about internal diplomatic conversations.

An Embraer spokeswoman declined to comment on the deal.

Though President Donald Trump has made clear his intention to approve the sale of the aircraft, the National Security Council is still working on the issue. Military sales to several other countries are also expected to be approved but are caught up in an ongoing White House review. Nigeria has been trying to buy the aircraft since 2015.

The Nigerian air force has been accused of bombing civilian targets at least three times in recent years. In the worst incident, a fighter jet on Jan. 17 repeatedly bombed a camp at Rann, near the border with Cameroon, where civilians had fled from Boko Haram. Between 100 and 236 civilians and aid workers were killed, according to official and community leaders’ counts.

That bombing occurred on the same day the Obama administration intended to officially notify Congress the sale would go forward. Instead, it was abruptly put on hold, according to an individual who worked on the issue during Obama’s presidency. Days later, Trump was inaugurated.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said this past week that he supported the A-29 deal to Nigeria as well as the sale of U.S.-made fighter jets to Bahrain that had been stripped of human rights caveats imposed by the Obama administration.

Under Obama, the U.S. said Bahrain failed to make promised political and human rights reforms after its Sunni-ruled government crushed Arab Spring protests five years ago.

“We need to deal with human rights issues, but not on weapons sales,” Corker said.

The State Department said in a 2016 report that the Nigerian government has taken “few steps to investigate or prosecute officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity remained widespread at all levels of government.”

Amnesty International has accused Nigeria’s military of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the extrajudicial killings of an estimated 8,000 Boko Haram suspects. President Muhammadu Buhari promised to investigate the alleged abuses after he won office in March 2015, but no soldier has been prosecuted and thousands of people remain in illegal military detention. Nigeria’s military has denied the allegations.

The A-29 sale could improve the U.S. relationship with Nigeria, Africa’s largest consumer market of 170 million people, the continent’s biggest economy and its second-largest oil producer.

In the meantime, Somali security forces have rescued an Indian cargo ship seized by pirates earlier this month, but the hijackers took nine of the 11-man crew when they fled ashore.

They are thought to be being held near the city of Hobyo.

The Al Kausar was one of three vessels to be hijacked after a five-year lull.

On Sunday sailors from the Indian, Pakistani and Chinese navies freed the crewof a Tuvalu-registered vessel which had been boarded by pirates.

The two crew members who were rescued were in a car that the pirates abandoned after they were chased, Mohamed Hashi Arabey, vice president of Galmudug state, told Reuters news agency.

Pirates contacted by Reuters said they would keep the crew to try to secure the release of more than a hundred pirates jailed in India.

Piracy in the waters off Somalia and Yemen peaked in 2011, with more than 200 attacks.

But it has dropped significantly in recent years, in part because of extensive international military patrols as well as support for local fishing communities.

However, the factors that drove many Somali coastal fishermen to become pirates nearly a decade ago are still there, says the BBC’s security correspondent Frank Gardner.

Somalia is currently in the grip of a famine. Poverty is widespread with few employment options for young people.

There is also continued local resentment at the poaching of fish stocks off the coast by Asian trawlers.

NBC with additional report from BBC

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