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The Nigerian press, citing foreign ministry sources, reports that the federal government has cut its pledge of 600 military personnel to 450 for the planned Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) UN Security Council-mandated intervention force in northern Mali. Again citing the foreign ministry, the press reports that such are the domestic security challenges, that the Nigerian military is currently actively engaged in thirty-four of the thirty-six states of the Federation. Nigeria also stated that it is no position to carry almost all of the costs of the regional operations, as it did in the interventions into Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Nigeria continues to be challenged by ethnic and religious strife, much of it related to Boko Haram, a radical Islamic movement. Data currently being processed by the Council’s Nigeria Security Tracker (NST) for November 2012, indicates more than 400 deaths that month. December is likely to be at least as deadly. Based on the media, there appear to have been sixty deaths during Christmas week. All such statistics almost certainly understate casualties.
Under these circumstances, Nigeria’s pullback from regional involvement in Mali should be no surprise. Nevertheless, it is bad news. In the past, with the region’s largest and most sophisticated military, Nigeria played a positive role in the resolution of security issues in West Africa, and carried most of the financial burden. It remains to be seen whether the other ECOWAS states will be able to make up for the Nigerian shortfall.
In the meantime, there is little progress toward a political solution in Mali. The Malian military forced out the civilian prime minister in Bamako shortly before Christmas. The northern Islamic radicals are pushing south, and one of the most important Islamic groups, Ansar Dine, has called off its cease fire. Reuters and other international news agencies are reporting that Ansar Dine troops are moving toward government-held positions with the potential for renewed fighting.