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World

U.S. Troops To Fight Against Islamist Militants In Cameroon

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And the militant group Boko Haram in Africa has become infamous for kidnapping girls in Nigeria. Now President Obama is sending up to 300 troops to Nigeria's neighbor Cameroon to help battle Boko Haram in the region. The White House says the deployment will assist with intelligence and surveillance operations. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: In a letter to Congressional leaders, President Obama announced that 98 troops were already on their way to Cameroon on Monday with about 200 standing by for deployment to combat the extremist Boko Haram group terrorizing the region. Increasingly, Boko Haram has expanded its deadly reach beyond its traditional strongholds in northeastern Nigeria across the borders in Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Local officials there say a regional force made up of troops from these countries is poised to strike again in pursuit of the nimble militants. White House spokesman Josh Earnest says President Obama has been stressing the importance of the regional approach in the fight against Boko Haram.

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JOSH EARNEST: And what the United States has done is try to offer some of the unique capabilities that we have in the United States military to assist that regional effort.

QUIST-ARCTON: Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to Islamic State and is blamed for a recent slew of guerrilla-style hit-and-run attacks and suicide bombings in West Central Africa, often using children. The White House says the U.S. military has been invited into Cameroon by the government there.

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EARNEST: It will be part of a broader regional effort to stop the spread of Boko Haram and other violent extremist organizations in West Africa.

QUIST-ARCTON: And the White House spokesman adds that there's been ongoing U.S. assistance to the regional fight against Boko Haram with help for Nigeria, but that the U.S. contribution is now increasing.

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EARNEST: The U.S. military personnel, they are armed for the purposes of force protection and providing for their own security. They will not be there in a combat role.

QUIST-ARCTON: Cameroon's far north, which shares a volatile border with Nigeria, appears to be a safer bet for U.S. deployment than troubled northeastern Nigeria, the birthplace of Boko Haram. It's there that 300 boarding school girls were abducted by the group from their dormitories last year. More than 200 are still missing. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Dakar. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.