Reuters reports Nigeria has brought in hundreds of mercenaries from South Africa and the former Soviet Union to give its offensive against Boko Haram a shot in the arm before a March 28 election, according to regional security, defence and diplomatic sources.
Rumours about the use of foreign “soldiers of fortune” against the Islamist militant group gained substance this month when pictures surfaced on Twitter showing armoured vehicles rumbling along a street in what was said to be Maiduguri, the regional capital of Nigeria’s Boko Haram-hit northeast.
In one photo that appeared on Twitter on March 6, a white man in a khaki tee-shirt and body armour is shown beside a heavy-calibre machine gun on top of one of the sand-coloured vehicles as the column drives through the streets at dusk.
A Reuters reporter with knowledge of Maiduguri was able to verify the location of the photo as the Bama road, leading southeast out of the city, near the University of Maiduguri.
Election campaign posters of Borno state governor Kashim Shettima hanging from street lights indicate it was taken recently. The lights, notable for their ornate ironwork, were only installed last year.
In confirming the presence of hundreds of foreign military contractors on the ground, including recently in the city of Maiduguri, security and diplomatic sources put the total much higher than the hundred or so previously reported.
Nigerian government spokesman Mike Omeri declined to comment, referring questions to military spokesman Chris Olukolade, who also declined to respond to multiple requests for comment.
In an interview with Voice of America late on Wednesday, President Goodluck Jonathan said two companies were providing “trainers and technicians” to help Nigerian forces. He did not name the firms, or the nationalities, or give numbers.
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