Niger and Chad, yesterday, launched major ground and air strikes in the North-East against Boko Haram, after the militants formally pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.
The attacks, which followed a sustained build-up of troops in southern Niger, have opened up a new front in regional efforts to wipe out the Islamist group, whose six-year insurgency has spread across borders.
The Nigerian troops also, during the weekend, recaptured Buni Yadi town, the headquarters of Gujba Local Government Area and Buni Gari town both in Yobe State from the terrorists.
“Very early this morning, troops from Niger and Chad began an offensive against Boko Haram in the area of Bosso and near Diffa,” a Niger government source in Niamey said on condition of anonymity.
More than 200 vehicles, some of them with machine guns, as well as tanks, ambulances, water tankers and transport trucks, were seen moving towards the border, radio station Anfani, based in Diffa, said.
Aircraft targeted Boko Haram positions on Saturday and early yesterday, it added, while a Diffa resident and aid worker said troops were seen heading to the border and heavy gunfire was heard.
The previously lacklustre counter-insurgency against Boko Haram has been given renewed vigour with the deployment of troops from Cameroon, Chad and Niger last month.
The armies have claimed series of successes in rebel-held territories in recent weeks, as part of an operation to clear and control the northeastern states in time for the general elections set for March 28 and April 11.
Much of the focus has been on Chad’s army, which has experience in tackling Al-Qaeda-linked extremists in Mali alongside French forces.
But the Director of Defence Information, Major General Chris Olukolade, said the Nigerien and Chadian attacks were complementary to the ongoing push against the terrorists.
“The mission of routing the terrorists from Nigeria’s territory is being conducted from various fronts in and out of Nigeria and is achieving expected results so far,” he said.
On Friday, the African Union endorsed the creation of a regional force of up to 10,000 men to join the fight against Boko Haram. The force, the idea which was adopted at an AU summit in January, will be based in Chad’s capital N’Djamena, the pan-African bloc’s Peace and Security Council said.
It will be mandated to prevent the spread of Boko Haram activities and other terrorist groups and eradicate their presence, the body agreed in a meeting earlier this week.
Diplomats said Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin had committed to providing troops, who would operate freely in a still-undefined region.
On the recapture of Buni Yadi and Buni Yari, the Acting Director of Army Public Relations, Col Sani Usman, in a statement, said during the operations, the troops encountered little resistance as the insurgents were on the run.
“Cordon and search and mopping up operations are ongoing in these areas. Operations by troops are also continuing to
recover the few areas remaining in the hands of terrorists,” the statement said.
It will be recalled that Boko Haram terrorists on February 25, 2014 killed 59 students in an attack on the Federal Government college Buni Yadi, in Yobe State, near the state’s capital city of Damaturu.
According to the state Police Commissioner Sanusi Rufai, “some of the students’ bodies were burned to ashes.”
Rufai said all those killed were boys. He said the school’s 24 buildings, including staff quarters, were completely burned to the ground.
President Goodluck Jonathan called the attack callous and senseless murder by deranged terrorists and fanatics who have clearly lost all human morality and descended to bestiality.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian military has raised concern over careless talks and undue exuberance by some individuals from the military of neighbouring countries involved in the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJNTF), which it argued have the implication of destabilising the spirit of the joint efforts against terrorism within the sub-region.
Reacting to a purported statement in some media by officials from the MJTF that troops from Niger and Chad made deep incursions into Nigerian territory to battle Boko Haram elements, Director Defence Information, Major General Chris Olukolade, advised that it is necessary for officers from participating countries to beware of the terms they use while speaking with the press and also understand the implications of those terms.
According to him: “The location in question has to be mentioned before one can confirm whether it is part of an assigned or authorised mission or an incursion as described. This campaign against terror only makes provision for collaboration and cooperation; not incursion into territories. I think there is a careless use of terms by some
inexperienced people or officials eager to make impression without understanding the implications. There’s no allowance for incursion here.
“The truth is that there were some preemptive manoeuvres along an axis in the theatre. Nigerian forces were also involved. It is unfortunate if that is what this young man is reporting in this false and divisive way. He may have to be called to order to stop this exuberant attitude of misinforming people as this is not good for our collective efforts. We will take this up where it matters.”