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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and this is The World. Here’s some common sense for you: “When your neighbor’s house is burning, you have to put it out.” Those are the words of a Chadian army officer quoted in the New York Times talking about the new multinational forest being set up to fight Boko Haram. The Islamist extremist group has been tearing apart northern Nigeria for the last six years and this past weekend Boko Haram declared allegiance to ISIS. Now four of Nigeria’s neighbors are joining the fight against the militants--Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Benin. In fact, several Chadian troops were reported killed in action today inside Nigeria. Eric Schmitt wrote that story I just mentioned for the New York Times and he’s just gotten back from Chad. Chadian troops today are reported as having taken casualties inside Nigeria. What are they doing and are going to be doing in this fight against Boko Haram?
Eric Schmitt: In the last several weeks, the Chadian forces have been massing both on their border as well as in neighboring Cameroon and also going into Nigeria itself to reclaim territory that Boko Haram had seized from the Nigerian forces over the past six to eight months. The Chadians basically have said “This is a threat to our economy, one of the key economic lifelines for Chad has been severed or threatened by the Boko Haram incursions.”
Werman: So, Chad speaks French, Nigeria speaks English, a legacy of their colonial past. Are these nations natural partners though? How well do they get along out on the battlefield?
Schmitt: This is one of the great tests that this regional effort will pose, is whether these countries, Nigeria’s poor neighbors--as you mentioned, Francophone countries--can get along. Cameroon and Nigeria, for instance, have had longstanding border disputes, they don’t get along well at all. The Chadians and the Nigerians get along a little bit better, particularly I think the Nigerian military recognizes that they need some help and welcome the Chadian army which has been battle-tested in places like Mali and the Central African Republic in recent years. So, I think what you’ve seen now is for the first time these countries are being forced to work together by a common foe here.
Werman: Eric, you were at a US-led military training exercise on this assignment of yours in Chad. What is the US doing to help out?
Schmitt: What the US is doing is trying both through training and through some equipping some of these African countries in West Africa, first the effort that’s gone on over the last several years of helping to improve these countries’ capabilities to fight Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups, and more recently of course now, Boko Haram. What I saw in Mao for instance, a city about 135 miles north of the Chadian capital, were US green berets as well as commandos from other European countries training soldiers from Nigeria and Chad and Mauritania among others to fight terrorist groups like Boko Haram, teaching them how to deal with ambushes, IED attacks, small bomb attacks, in this very harsh desert terrain that these militaries operate in.
Werman: We hear this weekend that Boko Haram has pledged its allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. How did that news strike you and what do you make of it?
Schmitt: This has been something that I think analysts have been watching. Over the last several months, Boko Haram has been making entreaties to ISIS; basically if you think about them almost “liking” them on their Facebook page, sending admiring proclamations to them and actually appearing to use some of the same media consultants to come up with much better video propaganda. So, you’ve seen the leader of Boko Haram appearing to draw closer to ISIS, trying to elevate its stature in the global jihadi community by associating itself with ISIS. It’s yet to be seen whether ISIS will actually provide any tangible benefits--financing or fighters or anything else like that.
Werman: Eric Schmitt with the New York Times just back from Chad. Thank you very much Eric.
Schmitt: You’re welcome.