ABUJA — Nigeria’s neighbour, Cameroon, has launched air strikes against Boko Haram terrorists for the first time, killing no fewer than 41 Islamist militants after the large force of jihadists crossed the border and seized a military camp at Ashigashiya, the government said.
Cameroon’s Minister of Information, Issa Tchiroma in a statement in Yaounde, yesterday, said the coordinated assaults on five towns and villages showed a change in tactics by Boko Haram fighters, who have focused on hit-and-run raids on individual settlements in the past.
He said: “Boko Haram’s campaign to carve out an Islamist caliphate has spread from its stronghold in North-East Nigeria to neighbouring Cameroon, raising fears for an already unstable region also threatened by Islamist militants in the Sahel.
He added that Cameroon has sent thousands of soldiers to its Far North region to fight off the militants and said it launched air attacks on the movement for the first time on Sunday.
According to him, “Units of the Boko Haram group attacked Makari, Amchide, Limani and Achigachia in a change of strategy which consists of distracting Cameroonian troops on different fronts, making them more vulnerable in the face of the mobility and unpredictability of their attacks.
“No fewer than 34 militants were killed after the army laid siege to a base used by the militants in Chogori while seven others, and one soldier were killed near the town of Waza.”
Army spokesman, Lt.-Col. Didier Badjeck, told newsmen that the Islamists briefly occupied an army camp in Achigachia after a fierce fight, but withdrew after air attacks.
“All the militants had now pulled back into Nigeria,” Badjeck said.
Both Tchiroma and Badjeck said it was too early to give full details of casualties.
Biya orders deployment of war planes
In another statement, Cameroon’s Communications Minister, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, said the country’s president, Paul Biya, personally ordered deployment of war planes on Sunday which forced the insurgents to flee the camp.
According to Bakary, “Fighter planes went into action for the first time since the start of the conflict on the Cameroonian side of the frontier, after several months of deadly cross-border Boko Haram raids.
“After two strikes and heavy fire, the assailants fled the Assighasia camp losing several fighters”.
He added that military operations were still under way and that “the toll from combat will be released once the operational evaluation is complete”.
The extremists have made frequent raids into neighbouring Cameroon since they began their insurgency in northern Nigeria in 2009.
Boko Haram tactics include massacres of civilians on both sides of the frontier, bomb attacks on state institutions and schools, and the razing of villages and mass kidnappings.
Since early in 2014, the movement has sent growing numbers of fighters into Cameroon, prepared to battle the army head-on as well as attacking and intimidating villagers.
On October 15, Boko Haram forces equipped with a captured tank and an armoured vehicle attacked a military base at Amchide, near the border, in a raid that killed several dozen civilians and eight soldiers, according to officials.
Cameroon’s neighbours, with former colonial power France, have long criticised the authorities for what they considered a passive response to the actions of the jihadist movement even as its members used Cameroonian territory to rest and buy food and weapons.
When a French family was kidnapped in 2013, alongside two Italian priests and a Canadian nun, President Biya sent major army reinforcements to confront the Islamists in “Operation Alpha.” The hostages were freed this year in Nigeria.
Some 2,000 Cameroonian troops patrol the far-north region, but security sources say that many more are needed because the area is so remote with a very porous border.
Military sources accuse Nigeria’s army of failing to do enough against jihadist forces who have taken control of large swathes of the northeast of the country.
“Attacks on our territory come from a neighbouring country that calls itself sovereign and does nothing,” a defence ministry official in Yaounde recently told AFP, asking not to be named.
Backed by France, Nigeria and three nations on its northern border — Cameroon, Chad and Niger — agreed on measures in May to help tackle the Islamist threat, including pooling intelligence, joint border surveillance and an intervention force.
Each of the four countries agreed to send 700 soldiers to the Lake Chad region where their frontiers meet.
An army officer told AFP late in November that, “Cameroon has already sent 300 men from the navy to the region, Chad and Niger are well placed to send troops, but that’s less certain where Nigeria is concerned.”