Ahead of the full formalisation of the proposed 7,500 regional force, Chadian aircraft yesterday bombed the Nigerian town of Gamboru about 150 kilometers from Maiduguri, the state capital, in a raid targeting the Boko Haram sect, security sources told The Agence France Press (AFP) as regional efforts to combat the Islamists intensified.
An initial raid was carried out around midday by two fighter jets on the town in Nigeria’s far northeast along the Cameroon border, sources from Chad and Cameroon said on condition of anonymity.
It was followed by further bombings of areas around the town, Chadian sources said. The raids were aimed at “Allowing Chadian soldiers to enter Gamboru”; a Cameroon security source also told AFP.
Details on damage or casualties were not immediately clear.
Boko Haram overran the town several months ago as part of its campaign to seize territories in the region and create an Islamic state.
“Senior officers from the Cameroon army are located in Fotokol,” the Cameroon source said. “The Cameroon and Chadian armies met for the Gamboru operation”.
The Cameroon town of Fotokol and its surroundings, just across the border from Gamboru, saw fighting between Chadian soldiers and Boko Haram extremists on Thursday and Friday.
Chad’s military said three of its soldiers and 123 militants were killed in the two days of fighting in the area.
Chad has deployed soldiers to Cameroon to help in the fight against the Islamists.
The Boko Haram uprising has become a regional crisis with the four directly affected countries: Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria agreeing to boost cooperation to contain the threat.
Nigeria’s military said on Thursday that its fighter jets had bombed the northeast town of Malum Fatori, also controlled by Boko Haram.
Witnesses and some media reports said troops and air force planes from Chad were also involved in that operation on Nigerian soil but Abuja neither confirmed nor denied the claim.
However, the implication of the incursion into Nigerian territory by the Chadian military could amount to an invasion if not properly handled, a source told LEADERSHIP Sunday.
The source cautioned that while the Chadian force can decide to occupy the town after expelling the insurgents, returning indigenous inhabitants of the town may prefer to stay under Chadian rule on the belief that their own government couldn’t provide security for them.
Attempt to get response from the Nigerian Army on the report proved abortive at press time as the GSM phone of the Director of Defence Information, Major General Chris Olukolade was switched off.
Ban ki Moon supports 7,500 regional force
Meanwhile, UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon on Saturday, gave his backing to an African Union proposal to set up a regional five-nation force of 7,500 troops to fight Boko Haram.
Boko Haram now controls large swathes of territory across northeastern Nigeria, with the country’s military having failed to stop the worsening six-year insurgency.
UN chief, Ban, while backing the proposed multi-national force, said that “Military means may not be the only solution.
“There should be very careful analysis of the root causes as to why this kind of terrorism and violent extremism are spreading”, he told reporters.
‘Soldiers locked us in, denied us exit as Boko Haram attacked Monguno’ – IDPs say
Meanwhile, fleeing residents of Monguno, who are still trooping into Maiduguri in numbers, blame more of the civilian deaths on soldiers, who refused to open the roads leading to the town to enable them escape when Boko Haram terrorists came attacking on Sunday last week.
The IDPs say the number of civilian death toll recorded in Monguno superseded that of Baga and many of them heap the fault on soldiers in the town who refused to act on time to save their lives.
“When the Boko Haram gunmen came attacking in the early hours of Sunday, many of the residents who had vehicles were quick to begin fleeing towards Maiduguri, but the soldiers at the main highway checkpoints leading to Monguno refused to open the barricade until after several hours when it was too late”, said one Muhammed Adamu a provision store merchant.
“During the night, the soldiers would lower the iron barricade at the checkpoints and lock it up with chains and padlock. Unfortunately, when most of those who had vehicles – both private and commercial, drove to the checkpoint, the soldiers refused to open it to allow them run for their dear lives. Some of them kept insisting that they were under instruction to not to open it. Most of those, who could not wait and risk the danger of the Boko Haram gunmen that were inching closer, had to abandon their vehicles and flee into the bush even as others attempted to drive through the bush with their vehicles. That was how many of them fell into the hands of the Boko Haram gunmen in the bush.
“It was when the soldiers saw that the battle was too hot for all of us that they opened the checkpoint and joined us in fleeing after ensuring that their commander who was said to have been injured had also fled”.
The IDPs also confirmed that there were some few soldiers trapped in Monguno. Some of them informed LEADERSHIP Sunday that most of the mercenary Chadian rebels that led the attack on Monguno had since left the town. And that only some of the Boko Haram members who were indigenes of Monguno were the ones left behind to run the affairs of the seized town.
“Most of those that came for the attack were light skinned persons with coiled hair like Shuwa Arabs of Chad”, said a member of the Civilian-JTF who doesn’t want to be named. “The white-skinned gunmen were more vicious than our own Nigerian members of the Boko Haram sect. They were the ones attacking the soldier in the direction of the barrack while the local ones attack the township targeting the male residents alone and forcefully taking young girls away. We tried our best together with some of the soldiers but they kept attacking like flies. We all had to run when the soldiers began to retreat. The human carnage was too much – corpses littered the town and the bushes.
“The Chadian mercenaries that came to fight alongside the Boko Haram gunmen had all left according to some of our women that made it to Maiduguri”, he added. “Only a handful of them were left to take charge of the town; and if the soldiers really mean to reclaim Monguno, this is the best time because only a few of them are there in the town as I am talking to you now”, said the Civillian-JTF operative.
The Civilian-JTF operative, who looked very dishevelled even as he limps on his blistered legs, said he had to spend extra days in the bush because the Boko Haram gunmen took over most of the routes leading to Maiduguri where they would fish out any male that is between 15 and 50 years to either shot at them or slit their throats.
“I was in Baga on business trip when the attack there happened before I returned back to our town Monguno. But I would say the number of persons killed in Monguno were more than what I saw in Baga”, he said.