Jet-backed Nigerian forces have taken control of several camps of ISIS-affiliated jihadists. Two senior commanders fled after several other senior militants were killed, two AFP military sources said Thursday.
After a month-long military operation, troops overran the camps of the West Africa Province (ISWAP) of the Islamic State in an area between the states of Yobe and Borno in northeastern Nigeria.
Operations continued when President Muhammadu Buhari replaced his four top military commanders after months of pressure over his government’s failure to end the country’s more than ten-year Islamist uprising.
On Wednesday, soldiers supported by fighter jets overran the Dole camp, the last stronghold of the jihadists in the so-called “Timbuktu Triangle,” said the two military officers.
“With the fall of Dole, the entire area is now under the effective control of Nigerian forces,” said one of the officers.
The jihadists have been in control of the area since 2013 when they captured it and built a strong presence, particularly in the Talala region, which became the second largest ISWAP camp outside the group’s stronghold on Lake Chad.
– Hard fight –
Last month, troops took over Talala after a fierce battle in which six soldiers were killed by a suicide bomber who detonated his explosives-laden vehicle among troops, military sources told AFP.
“It was an uphill battle,” said the second source in the Dole raid.
“The route to Dole has been dismantled by the terrorists and the troops have reached it on foot, engaging the terrorists in a fierce battle with air support,” he said.
Several hostages were rescued from the camps while dozens of vehicles that had been seized from kidnapped hostages were recovered.
Two high-profile ISWAP commanders, Modu Sulum and Ameer Modu Borzogo, along with some fighters, fled during intense fighting while other commanders were killed, the second source said.
Fugitive fighters were believed to have fled to Lake Chad, which stretches across Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon, where the group maintains camps on the islands that cover the freshwater lake, the two military officers said.
The story goes on
On another front, troops reclaimed five jihadist camps in the villages of Kidari, Argude, Takwala, Chowalta and Galdekore, where the jihadists used suicide bombers to repel the advance of the troops.
“We lost some soldiers and several were injured in the suicide attack, but the soldiers managed to subdue the terrorists,” said the second source, without giving any details about the victims.
ISWAP split from mainstream Boko Haram in 2016 and became a dominant group launching attacks on military bases and raiding troops while travelers were kidnapped at fake checkpoints.
Last week, Buhari appointed new military chiefs, raising hopes of a change in military strategy to end the 12-year-old conflict that killed 36,000 people and displaced around two million from their homes.
abu / pma / ach