NIGERIA

Some 300 Boko Haram fighters killed in counter-offensive, army says

Boko Haram, AFP | Screengrab of Boko Haram militants riding a tank

Nigerian forces have killed more than 300 Boko Haram fighters during an operation to recapture 11 towns and villages since the start of the week, the military said on Wednesday, as regional neighbours also pounded the militants.

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“Weapons and equipment were also captured and some destroyed,” defence spokesman Major-General Chris Olukolade said in a statement. “However, two soldiers lost their lives while 10 others were wounded,” he added.

It was not possible to independently verify the military’s statement. Nigerian forces have in the past been accused of overstating enemy casualties while greatly understating their own and the number of deaths of civilians caught in the crossfire.

Cameroonian forces supported by Chad’s air force carried out air strikes and used heavy artillery against Boko Haram in the village of Gourgouroon, on the Nigeria-Cameroon border, Cameroon army spokesman Colonel Didier Badjeck said.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau vowed to disrupt Nigeria’s upcoming general elections in a new video released Tuesday.

“This election will not be held even if we are dead. Even if we are not alive Allah will never allow you to do it,” Shekau said in the Hausa language, presumably referring to the polls scheduled for March 28.

The video appeared to be the first message released by the group on Twitter, a sign of its changing media tactics. Previous messages were distributed to journalists on DVD.

Boko Haram’s relentless attacks on military and civilians have more than 13,000 people since the group launched its violent campaign for a breakaway Islamic state in mid-2009, threatening the stability of Africa’s biggest economy and top oil producer as well as that of the entire region.

Boko Haram was also cited as a reason for postponing Nigeria's presidential election, which had been due to take place last Saturday.

Between 20 and 30 mourners at a funeral were killed when an unidentified plane bombarded a village in Niger near the Nigerian border, local officials said Wednesday.

It was not clear who dropped the bombs, but Nigeria denied responsibility.

"It's not to my knowledge and there has not been any report from our people of such an incident," said Air Commodore Dele Alonge, a spokesman for Nigeria's air force.

Regional nations join the fight

In the past two weeks the tide has appeared to turn against the Islamists, as neighbours Chad, Cameroon and Niger, all of whom have seen attacks by Boko Haram insurgents, have launched military counter-offensives.

Nigerian soldiers recaptured the strategic town of Monguno, on the shores of Lake Chad where the four countries meet, from Boko Haram on Monday. More than 5,000 people fled the town after the insurgents seized it last month.

Olukolade said troops had seized five types of armoured fighting vehicles, an anti-aircraft gun, 50 cases of bombs, eight different types of machine guns, some 50 cases of ammunition and 300 motorcycles the rebels use to launch attacks.

Chadian troops cleared Boko Haram out of Nigeria’s Gamburu earlier this month. Niger soldiers shot dead a suicide bomber suspected of belonging to Islamist militant group on Monday after he tried to detonate an explosive belt near a military post in the southern Niger town of Bagara.

Violence in the northeast has hurt the re-election prospects of President Goodluck Jonathan, accused of doing too little to protect civilians from the militants, although the recent victories could swing public opinion in his favour.

The growing cooperation between Nigeria’s neighbours is also attracting donor support to fight the Islamists, with the US Army providing equipment and intelligence to allies.

Presidents from the 10-nation Economic Community of Central African States on Monday pledged to create an emergency fund of 50 billion CFA francs ($87 million) to the fight.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)

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