WASHINGTON ― The U.S. State Department has cleared the sale of 12 AH-1Z Cobra attack helicopters to Nigeria worth nearly $1 billion, apparently after U.S. lawmakers lifted objections over human rights concerns.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency on Thursday announced the sale of the helicopters and related defense systems to the Nigerian military. The package includes $25 million for human rights-related training.
The sale includes the Bell-made Cobras; 28 General Electric-made T700-401C engines; 2,000 Advanced Precision Kill Weapon Systems used to convert unguided missies into precision-guided missiles; and night vision, targeting and navigation systems.
The case highlights the Biden administration’s attempts to balance human rights concerns in the arms sale process.
Foreign Policy reported in July that the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee delayed the sale amid concerns Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was drifting toward authoritarianism. The country is facing multiple security challenges, including terrorism.
“Nigeria requires a fundamental rethink of the framework of our overall engagement,” committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., told Secretary of State Antony Blinken during the diplomat’s testimony before the panel last year.
Menendez also tweeted that “the Nigerian government must get serious about security” after the militant group Boko Haram kidnapped more than 300 schoolboys in December 2020. The Nigerian government also ran afoul of the New Jersey Democrat in 2019 after arresting one of his constituents, Nigerian-American journalist Omoyele Sowore.
According to the announcement, $25 million in the package will be dedicated to “institutional and technical assistance” to Nigeria’s military to continue its Air-to-Ground Integration program, which concerns targeting processes that are consistent with international humanitarian law and the laws of armed conflict.
“The proposed sale will better equip Nigeria to contribute to shared security objectives, promote regional stability and build interoperability with the U.S. and other Western partners,” the announcement read. “This sale will be a major contribution to U.S. and Nigerian security goals.”
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered the intersection of U.S. foreign policy and national security in Washington since 2014. He previously wrote for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.