The United States wants to help Nigeria fight Islamists it sees as a growing regional menace, but the country cannot rely on military might alone, an official travelling with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

Police guard Holy Trinity Catholic church in Abuja

Clinton arrived in Africa’s most populous nation on Thursday offering to help President Goodluck Jonathan fight Boko Haram, a Taliban-like group that wants to establish a strict Islamic state in the north of the vast country.

Boko Haram has launched bomb and gun attacks on churches this year that provoked Christians, leading to deadly reprisals against Muslims. Hundreds of people have died and Washington is concerned about insecurity spreading.

“Northern Nigeria also borders Chad, it borders Cameroon, it borders Niger and we are concerned this radicalism could undermine the security of neighbouring states,” the senior U.S. official said.

Jonathan’s critics say he relies too much on the military to defeat Boko Haram, rather than addressing northerners’ grievances, such as poverty and unemployment, and Clinton will lean on him to address the underlying causes of the insurgency.

“A security strategy is not enough,” the official said.

Military crackdowns have had mixed results – reducing Boko Haram’s capabilities in some areas but generating anger because of their heavyhandedness.

Washington will offer Nigeria help with things like forensics, tracking of suspects and “fusing” disparate strands of police and military intelligence, the U.S. official said.

“We know all too well from our own experiences in both Iraq and Afghanistan what can happen if soldiers and police are not operating under appropriate authorities.”

“We will encourage them not to use excessive force and to look at this as a … law enforcement operation designed to catch perpetrators and bring them to justice,” he added.  Read more…