By Andrew Quinn
ABUJA (Reuters) - 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.
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 neighboring 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.
On Thursday, the Nigerian military swept through Kogi state in search of gunmen behind a massacre on Monday in which the attackers blocked exits to the Deeper Life Church in the town of Okene and fired at trapped worshippers, killing 19.
Gunmen killed three people in an attack on a mosque in the city the next day. Boko Haram have been known to attack churches and mosques.
"The Inspector General gave us a marching order to get those responsible for the recent killings in Kogi. We have so far arrested four people including a woman. We trailed them to their hideout," Kogi state police commissioner Mohamed Katsina told Reuters by phone.
Residents complained of heavy-handed tactics in the security forces' raid, underscoring the U.S. official's concern.
"The army are raiding our houses one after the other, beating and brutalizing people," said Rahamman Bello, a resident of Adavi village on the outskirts of Okene.
"They said they are searching for arms and ammunition. Many of our people are being arrested and molested."
Clinton will also address a law on oil production that has been stuck in parliament for more than five years, leaving majors like Exxon and Chevron uncertain about the regulatory future in Africa's biggest crude producer.
The official said Clinton would urge a "fair and predictable environment" for oil companies in the Petroleum Industry Bill.
"If a bill comes out which appears to undermine the interest of companies, they won't invest," the official said.
(Additional reporting by Anamesere Igboeroteonwu; in Onitsha and Mike Oboh in Abuja; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Tim Pearce)
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