Pledge support, including joint patrols and intelligence sharing

African leaders at a summit in Paris have agreed on a regional plan of action to combat Boko Haram, the Islamist group that has abducted more than 200 girls and threatened to sell them into slavery.

In a rare show of unity, the leaders of Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Benin pledged cooperation including joint border patrols and sharing intelligence to find the girls, snatched from Nigeria more than a month ago.

Nigeria has faced criticism for not having done enough to protect its people, particularly the girls, and for its slow response to the kidnappings.

The country’s President, Goodluck Jonathan, described Boko Haram as a “terrorist organisation” and said it was part of an “al-Qaeda operation”.

The mini-summit, hosted by France, brought together Presidents in the region to discuss how to come up with a united response to combat Boko Haram.

Earlier, the U.S. department of defence suggested the Nigerian army was not capable of confronting Boko Haram alone. “The division in the north that mainly is engaging with Boko Haram... has recently shown signs of real fear,” said Alice Friend, the department’s African affairs director. “They do not have the capabilities, the training or the equipment that Boko Haram does, and Boko Haram is exceptionally brutal and indiscriminate in their attacks.” Key to the success of the summit was the presence of Cameroon, Nigeria’s neighbour, at the table. Relations between the two countries have been soured by a long-standing territorial dispute. Representatives from the U.S., U.K. and EU were also present in Paris.

Boko Haram’s ability to operate across vast areas of northern Nigeria is helped by the porous nature of the borders in the region. There have been reports of the group carrying out attacks in Nigeria and escaping into Cameroon.

Nigeria and its neighbours pledged to reinforce security measures for those living in areas targeted by Boko Haram, carry out bilateral patrols and share operational intelligence to find the kidnapped girls and other snatched by the Islamist group.

A second summit at ministerial level will be held in London next month to report on what progress has been made.

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014

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