A firefight Friday between insurgents and the Nigerian military claimed close to 180 lives and left some two thousand homes in the village of Baga burned to their foundations. Baga is in Borno State, home turf of the group Boko Haram which has unleashed a war against the Goodluck Jonathan government after their leader was murdered by police in an apparent execution in 2009.
Nigeria’s military has received training at U.S. bases and locally “for decades.”
Security guards initially denied access to Baga as the Goodluck government struggled for 48 hours to provide a full explanation for the high fatalities. News reports from the scene generally agree that the Nigerian military initiated the action, surrounding a mosque in the belief that Boko Haram members were inside. They were met by a hail of rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun bullets, whose ferocity reportedly caught the government agents off guard. Chad and Niger provided back-up to the Nigerian troops.
“When the military reinforced and came in to the village, apparently one of the soldiers was killed, and they held the entire community responsible for the killing and decided to massively deal with the community,” political commentator Hussaini Abdu told the German news agency DW.
In a press interview, Brig. Gen. Austin Edokpaye claimed the extremists used civilians as human shields during the fighting – implying that soldiers were shooting in neighborhoods where they knew civilians lived.
But a number of Baga residents accused used the military, not Boko Haram, of firing indiscriminately at civilians and setting fire to much of the fishing town. In addition to the mostly civilian 187 killed, 77 others were injured and more than 2,000 homes were set on fire, reportedly by the Military Joint Task Force, according to the Red Cross.
Regarding the U.S. training, the US embassy in Abuja told the Guardian newspaper: “We have had a mil-mil relationship with the Nigerians for decades, principally supporting their peacekeeping efforts in Africa (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Darfur) and around the globe. In recent years, and at their request, we have also worked with them on their nascent counter-force. We do not know if any of these elements have been deployed in the (Boko Haram) north.”
In August 2011, Gen. Carter Ham, former chief of the African Command, met with members of the press and referred to U.S. counter-insurgency support.
“We want to make sure that those who are countering insurgency have a wide array of options available to them, not simply do nothing or apply overwhelming military force but a vast array of capabilities, whether it’s a more constrained or restrained approach to civil disturbance, whether it’s the use of nonlethal munitions and other kinds of tactics and techniques. All of those things are possible. We, along with Nigeria, have some experience in this regard. And if that’s a matter that the Nigerian military leaders would like us to pursue, that certainly is an area where I think we could help one another.”
Meanwhile, a U.S. MQ-1B Predator unmanned drone aircraft docked in neighboring Niger is worrying Nigerians in the North-West and North East regions. Three Nigerians: Abubakar Shekau, Abubakar Adam Kambar and Khalid al-Barnawi have already been designated global terrorists and could be considered targets for the U.S. unmanned planes.