Eeben Barlow, chairman of Specialised Tasks, Training, Equipment and Protection International (STTEP), a private army, has accused the US of influencing President Muhammadu Buhari to terminate the contract to rescue Chibok girls.
Speaking in an interview with Al Jazeera, Barlow said Buhari did not have any choice but to end the contract because he came under pressure from the US – a country he said sponsored the then All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate’s campaign in 2015.
Boko Haram insurgents abducted 276 girls from Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno state in 2014. So far, 112 of the girls are still held captive by the insurgents. Fifty-seven were lucky to escape while 107 were released in batches in Swiss-coordinated negotiations.
In the build-up to the 2015 elections, the President Goodluck Jonathan administration made some successes in combating Boko Haram but after the Buhari administration came on board, the momentum went down temporarily.
Barlow said his army was initially engaged to rescue the Chibok girls but that changed to combating Boko Haram.
“Our initial aim was not Boko Haram per se, it was to rescue the Chibok girls. They were the girls that were kidnapped and the western response was #Savethegirls (#BringBackOurGirls),” he said.
“That type of nonsense does not save girls. Unfortunately, these girls became victims of a situation where the security had broken down in a specific area, they were kidnapped and that was the first mission – rescue the Chibok girls.
“We ended a selection process of the Nigerian soldiers, the soldiers were retained after a selection process, they were trained in a specific way to conduct a hostage rescue operation.
“However, after about five or six weeks of the training of the hostage rescue team we were asked to change our mission and that mission was to go to a town called Maiduguri in north-east Nigeria that had come under severe threat of Boko Haram and we rapidly had to transition what we were doing and suddenly train an offensive force with the minimum of equipment.
“We rushed to Maiduguri and we met with 7th infantry division commander, he was under pressure, we finally understood the pressure he was under and our suggestion to him that the force that we have trained which named the 72nd mobile strike force would actually spearhead the division and that is precisely what we did.
“The operation was in three phases, the first phase was to cut a dividing line across north-eastern Nigeria and isolate Boko Haram into two isolated areas and mop up. One area in the south was the start and after that then mop up in the north. The division will follow behind and occupy terrain.
“But we were never allowed to execute the entire operation. In one month, we took back terrain larger than the terrain of Belgium from Boko Haram. We were not allowed to finish because it came at a time that governments were in the process of changing.
“President Jonathan’s government saw the entire Boko Haram contract, if we call it that, as a last grasp to regain popularity. The incoming president, President Buhari was heavily supported by a foreign government and one of the first missions was to terminate our contract.
“We were told it was the United States and they had actually funded President Buhari’s campaign and the campaign manager for President Buhari came from the US.
“I’m not saying the United States is bad, I understand foreign interests but I’d have thought that a threat like Boko Haram on the integrity of Nigeria ought to be a priority but it wasn’t.”
When asked why the US allegedly aborted the mission, he said: “I think the US can answer that, I have come to realise that when a foreign interest clashes with a state’s interest and domestic interest, conflict is bound to ensue and those conflicts continue with no end.”
Barlow added that the federal government would be in the right position to disclose how much they were paid for the operation.
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