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Nigerian leader appoints new military commanders

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MICHELLE FAUL | January 16, 2014 06:15 AM EST | AP

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LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — In a major shakeup of the high command of Nigeria's military which is battling an Islamic uprising, President Goodluck Jonathan appointed an air force officer from the troubled northeast Thursday as his new top military commander, and new chiefs of the army, air force and navy.

Air Marshal Alex S. Badeh, 57, has the top job as chief of defense staff and services, with immediate effect, according to a statement. Badeh had been chief of air services since 2012. It did not say what will happen to his predecessor, Adm. Ola Sa'ad Ibrahim, who had headed the military since 2012.

Maj. Gen. Kenneth Tobiah Jacob Minimah is the new chief of army staff. Rear Adm. Usman O. Jibrin takes over the navy and the new chief of air staff is Vice Marshal Adesola Nunayon Amosu.

Several other senior army officers got new assignments last month.

Badeh takes over as Africa's biggest oil producer battles Islamic extremists in the northeast. Badeh's home state of Adamawa as well as neighboring Borno and Yobe states have been under a state of emergency since May. Thousands of security forces deployed to the area quickly drove Boko Haram insurgents out of major urban centers but there has been a resurgence in attacks recently.

On Tuesday, a car bomb exploded in a busy commercial center of Maiduguri, the Borno state capital that is the birthplace of Boko Haram. At least 43 people were killed, according to a mortuary official who said some bodies were burned beyond recognition.

On Dec. 2, hundreds of Boko Haram fighters in trucks and a stolen armored personnel carrier attacked an air force base and a separate army barracks on the outskirts of Maiduguri in one of the insurgent group's most daring attacks. Two helicopters and three military aircraft were set ablaze and destroyed.

Such embarrassments to the military have raised questions about possible collusion. Jonathan himself has charged that there are Boko Haram sympathizers in his government and among security forces.

A U.S. travel advisory issued earlier in January said, "Late 2013 saw an increase in Boko Haram attacks and clashes with Nigerian government security forces in northern Nigeria. ... Boko Haram is known to descend on whole towns, robbing banks and businesses, attacking police and military installations, and setting fire to private homes."

Thousands of people have been killed since the uprising that began in 2009. It has become the biggest threat to the security and cohesion of Nigeria, which has more than 160 million people. The extremists say they want to impose Islamic Shariah law across all of Nigeria, which has about equal numbers of Muslims who dominate the north and Christians who live mainly in the south.

In the group's highest-profile attack, a Boko Haram member detonated a car bomb at the U.N. headquarters in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, on Aug. 26, 2011, killing 25 people and wounding more than 100. The United States last year designated Boko Haram a terrorist organization.