Video: On the front line with Chadian troops fighting Boko Haram in Niger
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A chilli crop lies rotting on the ground with no one to harvest it after residents of the remote frontier town of Bosso, on the Niger side of the border with Nigeria, fled the area as Boko Haram fighters swept in.
The arrival of Boko Haram nearly two weeks ago marked the spread of this regional conflict to a fourth West African country.
Meanwhile, Bosso is a ghost town.
Before the February 6 attack, the population of this town of about 50,000 inhabitants had swelled with the influx of thousands of displaced people fleeing the fighting between Nigerian troops and Boko Haram militants on the Nigerian side of the border.
Today, there are only abandoned mud huts dotting the dusty countryside. “We are at the entrance to the town of Bosso. People have abandoned the town because of the recent fighting,” explains a Chadian soldier.
In recent months, the Nigerian Islamist group has extended its raids into Cameroon, Niger and Chad, as these West African countries have formed a military alliance with Nigeria.
The conflict in Bosso and the neighboring town of Diffa has left more than 400 people dead, including four Nigerian and eight Chadian soldiers. “It was total carnage when they [Boko Haram militants] came. They were high. Some died with explosives on them that they hadn't even detonated,” explains Colonel Azem Bermandoa, a Chadian army spokesman.
Bosso is separated from Nigeria’s Borno state by the Komadougou Yobe river. Across the river lies the Boko Haram stronghold of Malam Fatori. It's too dangerous to go any further. Colonel Bermandoa points to a few soldiers in the scrubland extending from the town to the river. “The men over there are Chadian military. They're spotters who are positioned to warn the other units if anything happens,” he says.
On Tuesday, thousands of people took to the streets in Niger’s capital, Niamey, protesting the deadly Boko Haram raids.
Addressing the protesters, Niger’s President Mamahadou Issoufou warned that “Niger will be the tomb” of Boko Haram militants.
"Nobody attacks Niger without punishment and Boko Haram learned that to its cost on February 6," said Issoufou. "That day, our defense and security forces crushed Boko Haram."
Regional leaders have stepped up their response to the Boko Haram threat with a call to form a 7,500-strong regional force. Niger’s population, and its soldiers, are all too aware that the militants could return at any time.
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