With losses mounting, Nigerian president sweeps out military leadership

Recently elected Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who promised he would swiftly crush the militant group Boko Haram, fired several top military commanders on Monday following a surge in suicide bombings and attacks.

Buhari dismissed Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, the overall commander of defense forces, as well as the heads of the army, navy and air force. He appointed new commanders late Monday, including Maj. Gen. Abayomi Gabriel Olonishakin as commander of the defense forces.

Buhari, a former military dictator, took office in May amid high expectations, vowing in his election campaign and inauguration speech that his first priority would be to restore security in the country’s northeast, where Boko Haram has killed and abducted thousands of people in recent years.

But bomb attacks on markets, restaurants, mosques, churches, government offices and other civilian targets in recent weeks have left hundreds dead. Girls in their early teens with suicide vests strapped to their bodies have been involved in several recent attacks.

Fresh attacks on several villages in the northeastern state of Borno were reported Monday, with at least 43 people killed, local officials told Nigerian media.

Nigeria’s military has been widely criticized as corrupt and ineffectual in its fight against Boko Haram. Critics complain that foot soldiers have been left poorly equipped while officials skim off funds meant to be used for weapons and equipment.

Human rights groups have documented the military’s scattershot approach -- sweeping into neighborhoods, shooting or arresting suspects arbitrarily, and holding thousands of suspects with inadequate food and water in brutal prison camps.

In a damning report last month, Amnesty International called for an investigation into whether Nigerian military chiefs were guilty of crimes against humanity, reporting the deaths of at least 8,000 people in its fight against Boko Haram. Many of them died in custody.

Nigeria has struggled to win U.S. and Western military assistance because of the poor human rights record of its armed forces.

Nigerian service chiefs have also been criticized for failing to co-operate with neighboring armed forces in the war against Boko Haram.

In a series of attacks last year and earlier this year, Boko Haram took control of a vast swath of Nigeria’s northeast. The military often ran away or abandoned towns shortly before attacks were mounted.

In the final few months of rule by the previous president, Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigerian military drove Boko Haram out of many towns and villages, with the help of foreign mercenaries and the armies of neighboring countries, but failed to defeat the group or arrest its leader.

As part of his effort to force the military to engage more aggressively with Boko Haram, Buhari ordered the military’s command center moved to the northeastern city of Maiduguri, and traveled to neighboring countries to boost cooperation in the war against the group. But although Boko Haram has lost control of many towns and villages, it remains capable of devastating attacks against civilian targets and remote villages.

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