Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­proves Nige­ria at­tack plane sale

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY RICHARD LARD­NER AND MICHELLE FAUL

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion will move for­ward with the sale of high-tech air­craft to Nige­ria for its cam­paign against Boko Haram, 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 Mr. 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, speak­ing on back­ground.

Though Pres­i­dent 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 that 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, Mr. Trump was in­au­gu­rated.

Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bob Corker 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 Mr. 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,” said Mr. Corker, a Ten­neesse Repub­li­can.

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 would 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. Nige­ria also is strate­gi­cally lo­cated on the edge of the Sa­hel, the largely law­less semi-desert re­gion bridg­ing north and sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa where ex­perts warn Is­lamic ex­trem­ists like the Nige­ria-based Boko Haram may ex­pand their reach.

The air­craft deal also would sat­isfy Mr. Trump’s pri­or­i­ties to support na­tions fight­ing Is­lamic up­ris­ings, boost U.S. man­u­fac­tur­ing and cre­ate high-wage jobs at home. The A-29 air­craft, which al­low pi­lots to pin­point tar­gets at night, are as­sem­bled in Jack­sonville, Florida.

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