Nigeria's president expects Boko Haram defeat within a month
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As Nigerians prepare to go to the polls next week, President Goodluck Jonathan said in an interview broadcast Friday that he expects Boko Haram Islamists will be flushed out of all the areas they have seized within a month.
"I'm very hopeful that it will not take us more than a month to recover the old territories that hitherto have been in their hands," he told the BBC.
"They are getting weaker and weaker by the day," he said.
President Jonathan, who is seeking re-election in a March 28 vote, has been heavily criticised for his failure to end Boko Haram's six-year-long Islamist insurgency. The vote was delayed by six weeks after security chiefs said they could not guarantee the safety of voters, with the militants threatening to target the polls.
Jonathan blamed the military's previous inability to put down the rebellion to a lack of both weapons and resources, problems which have now been remedied. Ill-equipped soldiers had previously appeared unable even unwilling to respond to attacks by the heavily armed rebels, who have killed more than 13,000 people since launching an insurgency in 2009 aimed at establishing an Islamic state.
The Nigerian military backed by soldiers from Chad, Niger and Cameroon as well as foreign private military contractors now say they have "cleared" the northeast states of Yobe and Adawama and recaptured dozens of communities from the Islamists in the restive northeast since early February.
Borno state, which has been most affected by the insurgency, is expected to be liberated "soon", authorities said.
But security analysts have warned that any victory announcement could be premature.
Boko Haram fighters demonstrated this week that they were still able to mount hit-and-run attacks, storming the town of Gamboru on the frontier with Cameroon and killing 11 civilians.
Gamboru was recaptured by Chadian forces last month but they withdrew last week, residents said, leaving it without a security presence. The lack of troops in Gamboru suggested a co-ordination problem between the regional allies and offered another indication of their often-tense ties, with Anglophone Nigeria long suspicious of its Francophone neighbours.
Suspected Boko Haram militants massacred at least 68 villagers, including many children, in a northeastern Nigerian village earlier this month. "The victims included boys and girls between the ages of 13 and 19 and other older residents, who were either shot dead or slaughtered," one witness said.
Four bomb blasts killed at least 50 people in Maiduguri in Nigeria’s northeast later that week.
Soldiers from Niger and Chad discovered scores of bodies, many of them beheaded, dumped near a bridge outside the northern Nigerian town of Damasak liberated from Boko Haram on Saturday, a Reuters witness said.
The Chadian army said that 100 bodies were found in a mass grave in the town, AFP reported.
The skeletal bodies were partially mummified by the dry desert atmosphere, the witness said, suggesting that the killing had taken place some time ago. Damasak was seized by the Islamist group in November but recaptured by troops from Niger and Chad on Saturday.
The town’s recapture had been the latest victory in a regional offensive that has managed to turn the tide against the jihadist insurgency, with the now regional forces fighting Boko Haram appearing eager to press home their battlefield gains.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)