The first of an expected 2,000 troops from regional military powerhouse Chad began arriving in neighbouring Niger Wednesday, where Boko Haram insurgents inflicted heavy losses in the town of Bosso last week, a local security source said.
Chad is a leading member of a multi-national force fighting the Nigeria-based Islamist fighters who have extended their attacks to neighbouring countries from their base in northern Nigeria.
“The first Chadian soldiers have already arrived in Bosso on board around 30 heavily-armed all-terrain vehicles,” the source said.
A Chadian military source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the troops will “search everywhere for Boko Haram”.
The planned offensive comes after Boko Haram on Friday attacked a military post in Bosso in Niger’s Diffa region, killing 26 soldiers including two from neighbouring Nigeria, in one of its deadliest attacks in Niger that sent tens of thousands fleeing.
A total of 55 insurgents were killed in the fighting and “many” injured, according to Niger authorities.
On Tuesday, witnesses near Bosso said Boko Haram remained in control of the town though the Niger government had said the previous day that “Bosso was totally under control.”
In the regional capital, Diffa, some 140 kilometres (87 miles) to the west, teacher Ari Issa said he had seen many fighter planes.
Local radio Anfani said “military planes are coming and going between Lake Chad and Diffa airport”.
There was no immediate confirmation from the Chadian army.
Last year, Chad dispatched soldiers to Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon to fight Boko Haram. The multi-national force includes the four countries.
– ‘50,000 displaced’ –
Some 50,000 people have fled the Bosso area, UN refugee agency (UNHCR) spokesman Adrian Edwards said Tuesday.
Boko Haram’s seven-year insurgency has left at least 20,000 people dead in Nigeria and made more than 2.6 million homeless, leading to calls for more support within the region.
The UNHCR said most of those fleeing the violence in Bosso had walked to Toumour, some 30 kilometres to the west.
In Abidjan on Wednesday, the medical charity Doctors Without Borders called for urgent help for those displaced in Bosso, saying they were short of water and food as well as medicine.
A local journalist working with Radio Anfani told AFP earlier this week that on Tuesday he was sheltering in Toumour with no food, along with many others who had fled the violence.
“The Boko Haram gunmen stayed in Bosso from 6:30 pm (1730 GMT) on Friday to 3:00 am on Saturday, burning the military barracks, police facilities and local administration office before looting shops and carting away food supplies,” he said.
He said the gunmen used heavy artillery which allowed them to overrun the town’s garrison.
“They came in large numbers shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is greatest),” he said.