Congressional Jockeying As Trump Plans Attack Aircraft Sales To Nigeria, Bahrain

by Samuel Abasi Last updated on April 8th, 2018,

Congressional Jockeying As Trump Plans Attack Aircraft Sales To Nigeria, Bahrain. Trump Administration plans to sell advanced fighter planes to Nigeria and Bahrain. Both countries have been accused of serious human rights violations by the U.S. Department of State and independent rights groups such as Amnesty International. Nigeria has been trying to buy the aircraft since 2015.

Congress is expected to receive formal notification within weeks, setting in motion a deal with Nigeria that the Obama administration had planned to approve at the very end of Barack Obama’s presidency and positions have begun to emerge.

The Chairman of The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker says the U.S. should not consider a nation’s human rights record when deciding if that nation can buy American made weapons. He said this past week that he supported the A-29 deal to Nigeria as well as the sale of U.S.-made fighter jets to Bahrain that had been stripped of human rights caveats imposed by the Obama administration.

“We need to deal with human rights issues, but not on weapons sales,” Corker said.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, also said he backs the sale.

“We’ve really got to try to do what we can to contain them,” McCain said.

 

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, however said he was “leery” of the sale because of the Nigerian military’s impunity. Cardin said this week he’s not trying to block the deal.

“Ultimately we hope that the sale goes forward,” he said. “But there is progress that needs to be made in protecting the civilian population.”

Once Congress is officially notified of the sale, lawmakers who want to derail it have 30 days to pass veto-proof legislation. That’s a high hurdle given Corker’s support.

The arrangement will call for Nigeria to purchase up to 12 Embraer A-29 Super Tucano aircraft with sophisticated targeting gear for nearly $600 million.

Concerns remain about the sale, despite its receiving the backing of some lawmakers. One is lingering unease about the Nigerian military. Another is whether Nigeria’s government will be able to pay the full $600 million for the aircraft, equipment, training and support.

The A-29 aircraft, with reconnaissance and surveillance as well as attack capabilities, are made by Brazil’s Embraer . But they use U.S. parts and are assembled in Florida, so they are subject to U.S. export rules.

The Nigerian air force has been accused of bombing civilian targets at least three times in recent years. In the worst incident, a fighter jet on Jan. 17 repeatedly bombed a camp at Rann, near the border with Cameroon, where civilians had fled, killing over 240 civilians.

That bombing occurred on the same day Former President Barak Obama intended to officially notify Congress the sale would go forward. Days later, Trump was inaugurated.

In Trump’s first phone call with Buhari in February, he “assured the Nigerian president of U.S. readiness to cut a new deal in helping Nigeria in terms of military weapons to combat terrorism,” according to Buhari’s office.

In March, the administration informed Congress of its plans to pursue a $5 billion sale to Bahrain of Lockheed Martin F-16s and related equipment, which had also been held up under Obama when Bahrain failed to meet human rights targets.

Under President Barak Obama, the US said Bahrain failed to make promised political and human rights reforms after its Sunni-ruled government crushed Arab Spring protests five years ago.

Amnesty International has accused Nigeria’s military of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the alleged extrajudicial killings.

The A-29 sale would improve the US relationship with Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, largest consumer market of over 170 million people and its second-largest oil producer.

Nigeria also is strategically located on the edge of the Sahel, the largely lawless semi-desert region bridging north and sub-Saharan Africa where experts warn Islamic extremists may expand their reach.

The aircraft deal also would satisfy Trump’s priorities to support nations fighting Islamic terror, boost US manufacturing, create high-wage jobs at home and bolster hiring especially by defense firms.

That hardly seems like an endorsement for selling the aircraft.  Mr. Buhari, though constrained by sickness, will need more than grow his armory. He has to get serious about improving governance and providing jobs, roads and services in every region of Nigeria.

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Samuel Abasi

Samuel Abasi

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