In line with its promise to flush out the terror group Boko Haram from territories in the North-east ahead of next month’s elections, the Nigerian military has stepped up its offensive in Bama, Marte and Baga, among other communities in Borno State, sources in the military high command informed THISDAY on Sunday.
Military sources also revealed that mop-up operations were still ongoing in another Borno community, Mongonu, which is on the verge of liberation from the terrorists.
According to a source, the coordinated aerial and ground assault from Nigerian troops in the south, supported by the Chadian and Nigerien troops from the north, has squeezed the terrorists, forcing many of them to flee to what they perceive as safe areas in Yobe and Gombe States where they are now trying to gain a foothold.
“But we are on their trail and would not allow them to set up camps anywhere and we intend to decapitate their capacity to launch random attacks.
“At this time, Mongonu is being cleared and the troops are engaged in a fierce battle in Bama, Baga and other border towns. We don’t have the complete picture yet but our troops are on the ascendancy,” the source said.
Also confirming the onslaught by the Nigerian military, the Director of Defence Information (DDI), Maj-Gen. Chris Olukolade, informed THISDAY that a multidimensional offensive was ongoing and the troops were making major inroads against the Boko Haram insurgents.
Olukolade however warned against making hasty conclusions on military operations as things could change quickly.
He said the battle was still very fluid and asked for patience, adding that Nigerians would soon know the true situation “as victory is assured”.
Olukolade’s statement came on the heels of the assurance given by the Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Adesola Amosun, to the public on the military’s commitment to end the war against the insurgents within the stipulated timeframe given by the security services for their operation in the North-east.
Amosun, who made this disclosure yesterday in Lagos after inspecting some newly-acquired military hardware, said the ammunition would boost the operations of the military in the North-east.
Amosun was in Lagos to inaugurate the range classification exercise involving live firing by Nigerian Air Force (NAF) helicopters at the 192 Infantry Battalion shooting range in Owode, Ogun State.
The two-day exercise would entail NAF helicopters flying at low range while they practise tactical formations and manoeuvres that would enable them target enemy insurgents.
After going through some tactical and strategic formations with senior officers, Amosun said the air power of the force had enabled them to decimate the Boko Haram sect.
He said: “We have intensified efforts to ensure that in six weeks, the war against the insurgents would have ended.
“We are set to decimate the Boko Haram terrorists by first gaining air and ground intelligence to deny them the freedom of action and movement, destroy their communications and supply line and cut off any possibility of regeneration.
“We have done this sufficiently and their command and control is already disrupted and what we need to do now is an exercise to complete the project.
“It is so easy for people to say what you could not do in so many years, how come you are going to do in six weeks.
“But this is an operation and it gets to a point where you can categorically say that within a certain period, you can complete the operation and this is where we are right now.”
He said the exercise, which is jointly organised by the air force, navy and army, would bring additional capabilities in fighting the insurgency, especially now that the Nigerian military is incorporating new systems and new ammunition into already existing platforms.
“With this, we need to intensify the day and night operations. This operation is meant to recalibrate our weapon’s system and fine-tune our tactics.
“It is also another opportunity to look at our maritime environment, as there are challenges equally in that area.
“We have challenges in the maritime sector because we equally contribute to operations Pulo Shield in the Niger Delta.
“We have new ammunition that we need to test and the range here in Lagos is the most ideal for this operation. We have to make use of facilities and everything that the nation has in terms of land space and equipment to fight the insurgency, terrorism and the emerging threats to the country,” he explained.
He urged residents of Lagos not to panic or exhibit any fear when they hear gunfire coming from some of the new equipment that are being tested.
On the joint operations with Chad, Cameroun and Niger to conquer Boko Haram, Amosun said that was adopted to enable the Nigerian military cross into territories of other countries in instances of hot pursuit of the terrorists who often run into the bordering communities of the three countries.
However, as the military steps up efforts to stem the tide of the insurgency, Boko Haram bombers continued to wreak havoc in North-eastern towns, where a female suicide bomber was reported to have detonated a bomb at Damaturu central bus park that led to the death of eight persons.
Damaturu, the Yobe State capital, has suffered repeated attacks for some months, chief of which was the recent attempted takeover of the town by the insurgents that led to several deaths.
The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) of the Yobe Command Toyin Gbadegesin, an assistant superintendent of police (ASP), who confirmed the suicide bombing, said the incident occurred at 12.20 pm on Sunday.
He said eight people died in the blast, while 32 others were lying critically injured at the General Sani Abacha Specialist Hospital in Damaturu.
A visit to the hospital revealed that the health workers on duty were working hard to rescue those brought to the accident and emergency unit.
The PPRO revealed that the suicide bomber had targeted security personnel on patrol at the park, but for fear of being detected had pretended to be a passenger at the park.
He said she boarded a Sharon bus and shortly after detonated the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) strapped to her body, killing herself and eight others.
“The suicide bomber attempted to reach the security men on patrol but was noticed and when our men prevented her from coming close to them, she changed course by boarding a bus. It was while she was on board the bus before its departure that she set off the bombs on her, killing herself and eight others,” the PPRO said.
When journalists visited the scene of the blast at 3.30 pm, the fire from the explosion had been put out by men of the state fire service.
An eyewitness, Mallam Abdullahi Mohammed, who is a commercial driver at the park, said he had parked his car, and had gone to eat at a restaurant inside the park when the incident happened.
“The sound of the explosion was deafening and as I speak to you, I am yet to come to grips with the bombing,” he said.
Sunday’s bombing was the second that had targeted a densely populated area in Damaturu.
The first was in June 2014 when nine football fans watching a match between Mexico and Brazil at a viewing centre were brutality killed by a bomber.
Meanwhile, several dozen people suspected of having links to Boko Haram have been arrested in southern Niger since the start of cross-border attacks by the Islamist group a week ago, a local governor said.
“In the region of Zinder, we have a few dozen people whom we arrested for checking. They are suspects,” Kalla Moutari told AFP in an interview late Saturday, adding that they were citizens of Niger.
The suspects were sent to an “anti-terrorist unit” in the capital Niamey, Moutari said.
Boko Haram launched a series of cross-border attacks in Niger’s remote Diffa area on February 6.
The region is across the border from Northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram stronghold.
The suspects were arrested at checkpoints on access roads into Zinder, Niger’s second largest city some 400 kilometres (250 miles) west of Diffa, the governor said.
He said some 10,000 people had fled the violence in Diffa to Zinder, and that the checkpoints allowed authorities “to intercept those who had infiltrated the displaced people”.