The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, on Monday rekindled the hope of Nigerians on the rescue of the Chibok school girls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents in April 2014. Buratai gave the assurance while fielding questions from newsmen on the sideline of the Chief of Army Staff third quarter conference held at Army Headquarters, Abuja.
He said that the safe return of the girls remained a priority of the military in the ongoing counter-insurgency operations in the North-East. He said there were strong indications that the girls were still held within the fringes of the Sambisa forest. The COAS explained that though the exact location of the girls’ in the forest was yet to be ascertained, the military was mindful of their safety in the bid to secure their release.
He said: “the issue of the Chibok girls is very crucial, we are making all efforts to clear the terrorists and after clearing them we rescue the Chibok girls in one piece. “I believe that the girls must be somewhere within the general area of the forest, but we are not yet sure exactly where they are.
“As soon as this is confirmed, we will attempt to see what we can do to bring them back in one piece, it is very crucial because their safety is very important. “They could be somewhere else, so we are taking this issue in piecemeal so that we are sure of where we are and how we are going about it and we believe that we can find a solution to it very soon.
“It (rescue) is not issue of the Army alone, it is a collective issue, the Air Force is there, also working very hard; the Department of State Service is also working very hard on this issue; our main concern is to provide the ground support to ensure that we do it very well.
“By and large there is progress.’’ Buratai pledged that the military would continue to work with the mandate of President Muhammadu Buhari to end the insurgency and secure the release of all their captives. In his reaction to the latest audio message released by the Boko Haram leader, Buratai described it as `another desperate move by the group to find relevance.’
He said the group no longer had the capacity to hold any ground or plan coordinated attack on strategic locations or key public facilities. “I think the new Boko Haram leader, in the latest audio is just trying to sound relevant; but as far as I am concerned, he is irrelevant in the scheme of things, he is irrelevant to me.
“ Have you seen any of them coming out apart from the suicide bombings? You can see the number of terrorists that are escaping from their camps; he is just making noise to remain relevant,’’ he said. On Sunday’s bomb blast in Maiduguri, the Army Chief urged residents of the area to remain calm as measures were being taken to forestall re-occurrence.
He said the bomb attack had provided clues of the remaining areas the insurgents were operating from in the state. “Sunday’s bomb blast will be among those that will be the last, you can be counting them, it has opened up another window where we can now focus where these attacks are coming from.
“It will not be possible for them to penetrate other areas; for now we have knocked them off areas along from Yobe and some parts of Borno. “Immediately this incident happened yesterday, I gave directive and we will comb that area thoroughly to identify where they are operating from,’’ he said.
Earlier at the opening of the conference, Buratai urged the participants to brace up to the challenge posed by the presidential directive on ending insurgency in the shortest possible time. He implored field commanders to propagate the `Change Agenda’ in their various units and formations in order to transform the Army in line with the vision of the present administration.
Buratai said the third quarter conference would provide the opportunity for the Army to assess it strength, weaknesses, threats and opportunities in the wake of emerging security challenges in the country. NAN reports that senior Army officers from the Defence and Army headquarters, tri-service establishments and Army formations across the country attended the conference.