On Terror’s New Front Line, Mistrust Blunts U.S. Strategy

Updated February 26, 2013

KUMBOTSO, Nigeria—The shooting clattered on for 30 minutes, residents of this dusty town say, and when it ended, four militants holding a German engineer hostage were dead.

So were the engineer, and four innocent bystanders.

In vast West Africa, a new front-line region in the battle against al Qaeda, Nigeria is America’s strategic linchpin, its military one the U.S. counts on to help contain the spread of Islamic militancy. Yet Nigeria has rebuffed American attempts to train that military, whose history of shooting freely has U.S. officials concerned that soldiers here fuel the very militancy they are supposed to counter.

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