After years of foot-dragging, the President Donald Trump administration has approved a $600 million sale of high-technology attack planes and equipment to Nigeria, officials said on Thursday.
The aim is to shore up the West African nation’s ability to fight Boko Haram and other extremists, despite U.S. concerns about human rights abuses by Nigerian security forces.
The Pentagon on Thursday said that the State Department had approved the sale and notified Congress, which has 30 days to give its go-ahead.
The deal includes 12 A-29 Super Tucano planes, which are described as light attack planes.
The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency said the aircraft would support Nigerian military operations against Boko Haram and Islamic State terrorists and monitor drug, weapons and human trafficking.
“Nigeria is an important partner in the U.S. national security goal to defeat ISIS, including its branches in Africa, and this sale is part of the U.S. commitment to help Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin countries in that fight,” an agency statement said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.
Despite approving the sale to Nigeria, the U.S. is keeping up the pressure on Buhari’s government to improve its forces’ human rights practices and ensure accountability for violators, a U.S. official said.
Amnesty International also has accused Nigeria’s military of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the extrajudicial killings of an estimated 8,000 Boko Haram suspects. Buhari promised to investigate the alleged abuses after he won office in March 2015. No soldier has since been prosecuted.
The Embraer A-29 Super Tucano is a turboprop light attack plane in service with countries across the world. It is designed for counter-insurgency operations and close-air support in areas lacking significant air defenses. It is also widely used as a training aircraft.
It is a contender in the U.S. Air Force’s OA-X light attack aircraft competition for a low-cost and easy to operate and maintain air support platform.
Light planes like the Tucano can fulfil air support and surveillance needs in low-risk environments at a much lower operational cost then heavier jets like the A-10 or F-16 and require less flight and maintenance training.