WASHINGTON – The United States suspended the resale of US-made military helicopters by Israel to the Nigerian government for its fight against Boko Haram last summer, according to Abuja.
The transfer of such aircraft requires a review to determine its “consistency with US policy interests,” Obama administration officials told The Jerusalem Post.
Reviews of this kind take place in the case of “any requests for one country to transfer US-origin defense items to another country,” said Ned Price, White House Assistant Press Secretary and Director for Strategic Communications.
According to a report initially published in a local Nigerian daily, ThisDay, Nigerian government officials believe a large sale was halted because of “unfounded allegations of human rights violations by our troops,” one such official is quoted saying. The Nigerian official is not named in the report.
“This,” he continued, “after the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had initially approved the purchase.”
US officials tell the Post such transfers must be consistent with a policy directive revised by President Barack Obama in January, which outlines the criteria for conventional-weapons sales.
The policy requires that US transfers, including of Boeing aircraft, take into account “the risk that significant change in the political or security situation of the recipient country could lead to inappropriate end-use” of the weapons.
While the Nigerian report suggests the country sought the purchase of Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters, Israel predominantly uses Sikorsky CH-53 aircraft for missions involving heavylift transport. Both Boeing and Sikorsky are American companies.
Nigeria receives extensive training and assistance from the US government in its battle against Boko Haram, an extremist group affiliated with al-Qaida that Obama has repeatedly labeled an enemy of the United States.
“The ideology of ISIL [Islamic State] or al-Qaida or Boko Haram will wilt and die if it is consistently exposed and confronted and refuted in the light of day,” Obama said in his address to the UN General Assembly.
Boko Haram gained notoriety around the world after its militants kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in April.
The US sent military personnel to help find the girls.
US assistance to Nigeria is intended to “professionalize the response of its security forces, including to respond to crime and terrorism,” and “emphasizes human rights, civilian protection and adherence to rule of law at all levels,” American officials said.
In August, Amnesty International said it had gathered video footage, images and testimonies that “implicate the Nigerian military in war crimes.” The Nigerian government has denied the allegations.
Israeli laws concerning the export of arms are less restrictive than those in the United States. Israel, however, is a member of the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms and, in 2009, reported to the body that Israel, in practice, refrains from transfers “where there is imminent risk that arms might be internally diverted, illegally proliferated and re-transferred, or fall into the hands of terrorists or entities and states that support or sponsor them.”
Nigeria’s largest arms purchase ever reported was from Israel, in 2007, in a deal with Aeronautics systems worth $260 million. That company is Israeli, however, not American.
According to the US policy directive, formally called the US Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, the attempted sale by the Netanyahu government also might affect future US arms sales to Israel.
One criteria for the transfer of US arms is the likelihood that the recipient country would “retransfer the arms to those who would commit human rights abuses or serious violations of international humanitarian law.”
Sixteen nations operate the Chinook helicopter, none of which are in sub-Saharan Africa. A single Chinook costs roughly $40 million to produce.
“The United States remains committed to helping the Nigerian government combat the terrorist organization Boko Haram,” a State Department official said. “We are engaging with the Nigerian government at all levels to identify areas of counterterrorism cooperation.”
An article in The New York Times last week claims to have verified Washington’s veto of the sale, but no sourcing is identified.
“The kind of question that we have to ask is, let’s say we give certain kinds of equipment to the Nigerian military that is then used in a way that affects the human situation,” US ambassador to Nigeria James F. Entwistle told reporters in October, according to the Times.
“If I approve that, I’m responsible for that. We take that responsibility very seriously.”
Israeli government officials declined to comment on this report.