Washington: Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said today a multinational African force will be in place within 10 days to take the fight to the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram that has killed thousands and was behind the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls.
Buhari predicted in an interview with The Associated Press that Boko Haram would be defeated in 18 months or less. But he conceded that Nigerian authorities lack intelligence about the girls still missing after the mass-kidnapping from the northern town of Chibok in April 2014 an act that stirred international outrage and a campaign to "Bring Back Our Girls" that reached as far as the White House.
He said his government is open to freeing detained militants in exchange for the girls' freedom, but only if it finds credible Boko Haram leaders to negotiate with.
"I think Nigeria will make as much sacrifice as humanly possible to get the girls back. This is our main objective," Buhari said, a day after meeting with President Barack Obama. Buhari spoke at the presidential guest house opposite the White House in a room decorated with murals of ceremonial Washington. He wore a traditional embroidered hat, popular among Muslims in northern Nigeria.
The visit by the 72-year old former dictator comes two months after taking office. Both Nigeria and the United States look to improve relations that soured because of government and military failures under Buhari's predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, who was defeated in March elections.
Obama said yesterday the US wants to cooperate on counter-terrorism and in combating corruption in Africa's largest economy and oil producer.
The elections heralded the first democratic change of power in the West African nation that has suffered decades of military rule, but Buhari faces formidable challenges not least the Boko Haram insurgency that has killed more than 13,000 people and driven another 1.5 million from their homes.
Buhari, a former general, last week fired the service chiefs of the once-mighty Nigerian military, which he has accused of corruption. But he expressed confidence that the Islamists that have launched suicide bombings and village attacks since his inauguration, killing hundreds, would be surrounded and eliminated with the help of neighboring Benin, Chad, Cameroon and Niger.
"We are going to deny them recruitment. We are going to deny them free movement across borders. We are going to deny them training. We are going to deny them receiving reinforcement in terms of equipment," said Buhari, who studied 35 years ago at the US Army War College.