Nige­rian army ‘de­stroys’ Boko Haram strong­hold

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Nige­rian Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari yes­ter­day claimed the mil­i­tary had routed Boko Haram in a key north­east­ern strong­hold, a year af­ter say­ing the Is­lamist mil­i­tants had been “tech­ni­cally” de­feated. A cam­paign last­ing for months in the 1,300 square-kilo­me­ter for­est in north­east­ern Borno state led to the “fi­nal crush­ing of Boko Haram ter­ror­ists in their last en­clave in Sam­bisa For­est” on Thurs­day, Buhari said in a state­ment. The govern­ment in Abuja and the mil­i­tary have fre­quently claimed vic­to­ries against the Is­lamic State group af­fil­i­ate but ac­cess to the epi-cen­tre of the con­flict in Borno state is strictly con­trolled.

That has made in­de­pen­dent ver­i­fi­ca­tion of of­fi­cial state­ments about vic­to­ries vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble. At­tacks have mean­while con­tin­ued, mak­ing claims of de­feat­ing Boko Haram ques­tion­able de­spite un­doubted progress in push­ing back the group. “The ter­ror­ists are on the run, and no longer have a place to hide. I urge you to main­tain the tempo by pur­su­ing them and bring­ing them to jus­tice,” Buhari said. The an­nounce­ment came af­ter Nige­ria launched a bar­rage of land and air as­saults in Borno state at the heart of the in­sur­gency that has spread to three neigh­bor­ing coun­tries-Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

While the counter-in­sur­gency has clawed back some ter­ri­tory, Boko Haram has re­sponded by step­ping up guer­rilla tac­tics, am­bush­ing troops when it can and ter­ror­iz­ing civil­ians when it can­not. Buhari’s state­ment made no men­tion of the where­abouts of Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Boko Haram fac­tion based in the for­est.

Boko Haram, which last year pledged allegiance to IS, has been in the grips of a power strug­gle since late last year. Shekau led Boko Haram for sev­eral years, un­til the IS com­mand said in Au­gust that he had been re­placed as leader by Abu Musab al-Bar­nawi, the 22-year-old son of the group’s founder Mo­hammed Yusuf. Shekau says he is still in charge, how­ever, as ri­val fac­tions vie for con­trol.

Chi­bok girls still miss­ing

On Wed­nes­day, a mil­i­tary com­man­der said Nige­rian troops had res­cued 1,880 civil­ians from a Boko Haram re­doubt in the restive north­east over the past week and ar­rested hun­dreds of in­sur­gents. Buhari also said yes­ter­day that “fur­ther ef­forts should be in­ten­si­fied to lo­cate and free our re­main­ing Chi­bok girls still in cap­tiv­ity”, re­fer­ring to more than 200 school­girls kid­napped in April 2014. To date only a few of them have been freed.

Boko Haram seeks to cre­ate a hard­line Is­lamic state in north­east Nige­ria. The army’s claim of re­cap­tur­ing Sam­bisa For­est brought a rare glim­mer of hope for mil­lions of peo­ple caught up in the dev­as­tat­ing con­flict. But Buhari has been keen to an­nounce any pos­i­tive news, with his govern­ment in­creas­ingly un­der fire for its han­dling of the economy, which is of­fi­cially in re­ces­sion.

The hu­man­i­tar­ian fall­out from the con­flict is also huge and aid agen­cies say it is too big for the coun­try to han­dle on its own, heap­ing pres­sure on al­ready over­stretched re­sources. Buhari has pre­vi­ously claimed that Boko Haram had al­ready been “tech­ni­cally de­feated”. His govern­ment has how­ever strug­gled to stop at­tacks on soft tar­gets such as mar­kets, in­clud­ing the use of women and child sui­cide bombers. At least 20,000 peo­ple have been killed since the in­sur­gency erupted in 2009. The fight­ing has also dis­placed some 2.6 mil­lion peo­ple, spark­ing a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in the re­gion.

‘Africa’s largest cri­sis’

The United Na­tions said ear­lier this month a bil­lion dol­lars are needed to help vic­tims of Boko Haram and called the con­flict “the largest cri­sis in Africa.” It es­ti­mates that 14 mil­lion peo­ple will need out­side help in 2017, par­tic­u­larly in Borno state, where vil­lagers un­der siege have typ­i­cally been forced to aban­don their crops.

“A pro­jected 5.1 mil­lion peo­ple will face se­ri­ous food short­ages as the con­flict and risk of un­ex­ploded im­pro­vised de­vices pre­vented farm­ers plant­ing for a third year in a row, caus­ing a ma­jor food cri­sis,” the UN said on De­cem­ber 2. Peo­ple freed from Boko Haram’s grip by the army have gen­er­ally been taken to camps where ba­sic sup­plies are also scarce. The Nige­rian pres­i­dency has since ac­cused aid groups of ex­ag­ger­at­ing the food cri­sis. — AFP

GWOZA: In this Wed­nes­day April 8, 2015 file photo, Nige­rian sol­diers man a check­point. — AP

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