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Echoes of Chibok girls’ rescue trails freedom for 687 hostages

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By Ndahi Marama, Maiduguri

The founding of Boko Haram in 2009, with base in Maiduguri, Borno State capital, by the late Mohammed Yusuf, was a matter of serious concern not only to the people of the region or the country, but also the world at large.

After the killing of  Yusuf, his second-in-command, Abubakar Shekau, took over Boko Haram leadership, triggering killing of  people in their thousands including security operatives by the sect.

With continuous raid of their hideouts in different parts of Borno as well as Yobe, Gombe, Bauchi and Adamawa states, the group had to relocate to Sambisa forest where it established its camps and launched massive attacks, leading to the capturing of communities in the affected areas which it turned into a caliphate.

The first town that the terrorists captured was Damboa in southern Borno in July 2015. Thereafter, more communities and villages were seized by the insurgents.

But with the collaboration of Chad, Niger and Cameroon, the terrorist group was given a bloody nose with the recapturing of some of the communities it took over.

However, the battle to route the group within six weeks as promised by the Federal Government ahead of the 2015 general elections accelerated the battle against Boko Haram.

One of such efforts was the one put in place by the Nigerian military to recapture Mubi in Adamawa from the fighters.

The troops first moved to Abadam, Lake Chad Basin of Baga, Borno State, and fought the terrorists, killing and recovering  massive weapons. The military also launched raids on Gamboru Ngala, Kala Balge and recaptured them from the terrorists after unleashing serious casualty on the insurgents in early January, 2015.

The military has since then recorded victories against Boko Haram, recapturing town after town in the north-eastern part of the country.

In the last few weeks, the military stormed the Sambisa forest base of Boko Haram attacking and decimating the terrorists.

Factors

The conquests are traceable to a number of factors,which hitherto encumbered the operations of the military.

SambisaApart from partnering with the Chadian, Camerounian and Nigerien troops in confronting the sect, first is that the Nigerian Army and the airforce which, all along, didn’t have the requisite weaponry to fight the type of guerilla warfare that was visited on the country by Boko Haram, have become properly equipped.

The Nigerian Airforce (NAF) was reinvigorated with the Federal Government’s procurement of 40 attack aircraft including helicopters with night vision capabilities.

Before now, the Boko Haram  fighters, aware of the shortcomings of the military, employed anti-aircraft guns with which some NAF aircraft were brought down. The noise level of such aircraft easily gave them away during attack missions but that has been addressed.

Many armoured personnel carriers (APCs) were also demobilized by the Boko Haram anti-aircraft weapons as well as landmines planted on attack routes by the terror group.

But with the new acquisitions like the mine-counter APCs such as the Cobras, equipped with night vision, and designed to operate in any terrain, as well as the High Velocity T55 armoured tanks with mine sweeping capabilities, Boko Haram could not have been a match for the Nigerian military. The terror group is yet to understand what is hitting them.

On Friday, January 30, 2015, the spokesman for the Defence Headquarters DHQ, Maj-Gen. Chris Olukolade,  said the military had reclaimed Michika in Adamawa, after the “operational searches for arms or stranded terrorists” and other casualties were concluded by troops.

On how Baga and Monguno in Borno State were liberated, Olukolade, in the statement, said: “Meanwhile, the Nigerian officers in key command positions of the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) in the North East sub-region are in the process of accounting for their actions leading to the loss of weapons, men and location in their area of responsibility in the mission area.

“This is a normal military procedure in major operations or after encounters. The essence is to extract and collate relevant information for subsequent missions. It could also lead to or determine appropriate disciplinary action where necessary.

“These successes by troops could be attributed to heavy use of sophisticated weapons of mass destruction and sustained commitment and dedication by the troops”.

“On February 16, 2015, troops from 7 Division of the Nigerian Army, Maiduguri, Borno State, in a coordinated operation and spearheaded by “highly coordinated air assaults”,  cleared Boko Haram fighters from Monguno and other communities successfully”, according to the military.

“With the clearance of the terrorists, Monguno, Marte and other communities on the shores of Lake Chad have also been reclaimed by the military, as the ongoing cordon and search operations are being determined”, a source said.

Mopping up

On February 18, the military spoke about mopping  up operation in some Borno communities where “terrorists incurred heavy casualty”. “Over 300 terrorists were killed while a few were also captured. Several weapons and equipment were also captured and some destroyed”, a DHQ statement said. “It has been confirmed that that 5 different types of armoured fighting vehicles, an anti-aircraft gun, about 50 cases of packed bombs and 8 different types of Machine Guns, 5 Rocket Propelled Grenade, 49 boxes of various types and calibres of ammunition as well as 300 motorcycles were destroyed in the fighting.   A total of 6 Hilux vehicles including those mounted with anti-aircraft guns were also destroyed.   However, 2 soldiers lost their lives while 10 others were wounded in the course of the operation.

Sambisa“The cordon and search operations is continuing along with aggressive patrols by troops who are now dominating the cleared communities such as Monguno, Gabchari, Abba Jabari, Zuntur, Gajigana, Gajiram, Damakar, Kumaliwa, Bosso Wanti, Jeram and Kabrisungul. The various phases of the highly coordinated air and land operations is also ongoing in the designated theaters being handled by contingents involved in the renewed counter terrorism campaign in and outside Nigeria”.

On February 19,  hundreds of Chadian troops battling Boko Haram to retake Dikwa Local Government Area of Borno State, according to a military statement, killed 17 fighters and arrested the Amir (commander) of the sect.

Dikwa, the headquarters of the old Kanem Bornu Empire, had been taken over by Boko Haram in late 2014, forcing the first class monarch, Alhaji Abba For Masta II, and thousands of his subjects to take refuge in Maiduguri.

A source told Sunday Vanguard that the recapture of Dikwa, after Chadian troops cleared Gamboru, Ngala, Kala Balge and several villages off Boko Haram fighters stormed Dikwa, which is less than 100 kilometers northeast of Maiduguri.

He added that the raid, preceded by air strikes, inflicted severe casualties on the fighters.

Arrest in Shehu’s palace

The source revealed that during the encounter with the troops, two Chadian soldiers lost their lives, while the Amir (commander) of the sect was arrested at the palace of the Shehu of Dikwa which troops suspected had been turned into the base/headquarters of the terror group.

“The terrorists had established themselves in Dikwa after taking over all the prominent buildings including the Shehu’s palace, the local government secretariat as well as the official and private residences of prominent people”, he said.

Same day, Olukolade said in a statement: “A concerted air campaign by the Nigerian Air Force is ongoing in furtherance of the mission to clear terrorists from all their enclaves.   The air strikes which today targeted the training camps and logistics dumps of the terrorists in Sambisa forests and parts of Gwoza have been highly successful as it achieved the aims with required precision.

The death of a large number of terrorists has been recorded while many others are also scampering all over the forest and out of the struck bases.   Details of casualty will be determined in subsequent phases of the operation.

“The strikes continue in other locations of the theatre heralding the advance of troops and other elements of the mission”.

Meanwhile, following the onslaught around Gwoza which shares border with Sambisa forest and Askira Uba Council Area of Borno state, hundreds of suspected members of Boko Haram, who escaped, fled and invaded Askira Uba, burning homes and public buildings, and leaving scores dead.

Askira Uba is south and about 220km drive from Maiduguri. It also shares border with Sambisa forest from the north axis. It had witnessed series of terrorist attacks since last year which led to displacement of thousands of residents before some residents took liver and resettled in the troubled town.

On April 28, more than one year after the abduction of some girls from a secondary school in Chibok, Nigerian troops stormed the Sambisa forest hideout of Boko Haram  and rescued 200 girls and 93 women in a daring operation.

Some 276 female students had been kidnapped from the school on April 14, 2014 by Boko Haram. 57 of them however managed to escape while they were being conveyed to the forest.

SambisaAs the military operation in the foreest continued, last week, more hostages were rescued from Sambisa to bring the number to 687. The DHQ, in a statement, confirmed the rescue but said it could not yet determine if some of the girls were the abducted Chibok schoolgirls.

Acting Director of Army Public Relations, Col S. K. Usman, and Olukolade, in a joint statement, said: “This is to inform you that our gallant troops have been making progress in the desired aim of ridding the nation of terrorists and their sanctuaries.

“It is heartwarming to inform you that, troops continued the offensive and cleared four key terrorist camps in Sambisa forest, Borno State. So far, they have destroyed and cleared Sassa, Tokumbere and two other camps in the general area of Alafa, all within the Sambisa forest.

“The troops have also rescued 200 abducted girls and 93 women. They are presently being processed. Similarly, a number of equipment and weapons have been captured.”

Boko Haram kills 22

Meanwhile, as the Sambisa forest operation was going on, last week, no fewer than 22 people were killed by suspected Boko Haram members in Marguba community and surrounding villages of Beneshiekh, the headquarters of Kaga Local Government Area of Borno State.

The insurgents, according to sources, also injured many residents after setting ablaze several houses, mostly those with thatched roofs, before looting foodstuff and livestock. The insurgents were suspected to be among those fleeing their camps from Sambisa due to the military onslaught.

Beneshiekh is north west and about 76 kilometres drive from Maiduguri. It is located on the fringes of Sambisa forest along Maiduguri-Damaturu-Kano Road which had witnessed deadly attacks by insurgents.

The attack came barely 24 hours after some insurgents laid ambush on some residents, killing 21 in Bultaram village of Gujba council area of Borno State while attempting to return to their sacked village to evacuate their abandoned foodstuff and livestock.

Ordeal

Our correspondent gathered from  the survivors now taking refuge in Beneshiekh town that “the insurgents came from Sambisa forest axis and stormed the villages Monday evening, wreaking havoc as they had a field day without confrontation”.

“Our communities have been ransacked by a group of terrorists numbering over 100 who came in over five Hilux vehicles, motorcycles armed with AK-47 rifles, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and local petrol bombs, killing 17 residents in Marguba community and other villages near Beneshiekh. “I was among the lucky survivors who escaped the attacks with my wife and two kids, we are presently taking refuge in Beneshiekh.

“It is unfortunate that many people thought that with the victory of General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) at the March 28 presidential elections, things related to killings and destruction by the insurgents will end, but it appears that worse is still on the way as many communities were attacked by insurgents in the north-east after the elections.”

Efforts to contact the Borno State Police Command acting Public Relations Officer, Mr. Asso Emmanuel, were unsuccessful as his phone was not reachable, but a member of the Civilian JTF from Beneshiekh confirmed the incident, pointing out that 22 people were killed in attacks in nearby villages of Beneshiekh.

SambisaHe also claimed that the situation had been brought under control as troops with support from members of vigilante youth, were combing the area to apprehend fleeing insurgents.

As at last Thursday, over 13 Boko Haram camps including the notorious Tokumbere camp in Sambisa forest had been captured. Other camps overran and destroyed by troops include Wulari Bukar, Gangala, Anguwar Bakwai, Jigide, Kotorima, Lagura Bello and Lagina Fulani.

Reacting to the liberation of the communities taken over by Boko Haram, by troops and the bombings of Sambisa forest, a member of National Union of Road Transport Workers in Maiduguri, Mallam Yakubu Usman Jalo, in an interview, applauded the military, especially the troops from Niger, Chad and Cameroon for a job well done, noting that most of the closed roads linking Maiduguri will be reopened to motorists.

Some internally displaced persons taking refuge at different camps in Maiduguri also expressed satisfaction with the military effort in confronting Boko Haram, but insisted  they would rather stay in the camps than to go back to their communities while others indicated interest in going back to pick up their pieces and begin new lives.

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