Nigeria’s military on Saturday claimed to have retaken the town of Baga from Boko Haram, the scene of what is feared to have been the Islamist militants’ worst atrocity of the six-year insurgency.
“Troops have this afternoon captured #BAGA after fierce battle with terrorists. Heavy Casualties. Mopping up ongoing. Details later,” the military said on its Twitter account @defenceinfoNG.
There was no independent corroboration of the claim, as thousands of people had fled the town on the shores of Lake Chad in the far north of Borno state from January 3, when Boko Haram fighters attacked.
Hundreds of people, if not more, are feared to have been killed in the days that followed, while much of the town and 12 surrounding settlements were burnt to the ground.
The capture of Baga — and a military base used by a multi-national force in nearby Doron Baga — was seen as strategic for the group, giving them control of all three national borders of Borno State.
It raised fears of cross-border attacks on neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, whose frontiers converge on Lake Chad, but also a possible push south to the Borno state capital, Maiduguri.
Nigeria’s military this week announced the recapture of Monguno, a garrison town 65 kilometres from Baga, after ground and air strikes. A push northeast to try to retake Baga was expected.
Troops from Nigeria have been joined by soldiers from Niger, Chad and Cameroon in recent weeks in a sign of the growing recognition of the regional threat posed by the group.