An apparently better equipped Nigerian military has revved up its battle against the extremist Boko Haram sect, displacing the insurgents from key Adamawa and Borno towns they overran and seized in the past months, a PREMIUM TIMES journalist travelling in the area is reporting.
In what appears a renewed bid to overwhelm the terrorists, the military, assisted by local vigilantes, known as Civilian-JTF, has cleared most of the towns ravaged by insurgent activities, our correspondent says.
The Nigerian military has drawn stinging criticism over its handling of the war against Boko Haram, an extremist militia that started in 2009 by killing or abducting security agents and civilians, while also attacking schools, markets and places of worship.
The group began seizing territories in parts of Borno and Adamawa States in 2014, a year that has seen Boko Haram’s most horrendous assaults.
More than 3,000 people are believed killed by the sect this year alone.
As town after town fell to Boko Haram, which busied itself shooting, bombing and raiding communities, and slitting the throats of defenceless residents, Nigerian troops came under severe local and international ridicule for failing to neutralise often predictable attacks by the militants.
In recent months, soldiers have openly abandoned their posts as Boko Haram fighters arrived, fleeing militants they admitted were better armed and motivated, and surrendering even additional weapons to them.
American official said in June that the situation became so terrible that Nigerian troops feared to engage the terrorists.
But things now appear to be looking up for the military, our correspondent says, as he travels around towns seized by Boko Haram, but which have now been liberated by the military.
“The military appears to be better equipped and motivated, and appears to have upped its war games,” reporter Aliyu Tilde, usually critical of the military’s response to Boko Haram, said in despatches to the newsroom Monday.
PREMIUM TIMES is the first news organization to access the heavily-guarded areas of Adamawa and Borno States, currently under military operations.
“Gaskiya (truth be said) Nigerian military is doing a very very fine job here. They have cleared Gombi, Hong, Mararraba, Mubi and the entire route of Boko Haram,” Mr. Tilde said.
“They are now at Uba slugging it out. Vehicles aren’t allowed beyond Gombi. People trek to Hong. The road is quiet. Clearing of hazardous materials like IEDs going on along Mararraba-Mubi Road before the road is open to users.
“Gombi-Garkida road is also cleared. It is safe. Saw many vehicles plying the road. Clearing of Garkida-Biu road may start soon,” he said.
“The military is now better equipped and more confident. Its newly acquired T72 tank is devastating. Boko Haram bombed it using suicide bombers with a pickup packed with explosives but to no avail. Only scratches. And the beast moved on.
“If the military is able to keep the tempo, many more places will be liberated,” Mr. Tilde said.
On Tuesday, the reporter continued his journey, talking to residents of liberated towns, soldiers, and vigilantes.
In a dispatch on Tuesday night, he wrote, “Gombi is quiet, half-empty, on curfew today, in the full control of Nigerian armed, police, custom, immigration forces. A camp of vigilantes can also been seen just before the junction to Mubi.
“I trekked from Muchalla to Gombi, seen burnt cars, motorcycles and buses of Boko Haram when their advance was checked by the military 10 days ago.
“Their last advance was stopped at Muchalla. So many bullet shells, small and big, on the road plus signs of shelling of trees, houses, etc. Night curfew started just now at 6pm.
“Many residents have returned although the road from Girei to this point has been nearly empty.
“Lassa and Dile exhibited the best use of self-defence doctrine. Unlike other towns that fled on hearing the sound of Boko Haram gunfire, the youths stood their ground and slugged it out with the Boko Haram chaps. Within 30 minutes they cleared them although few were able to escape.
“Boko Haram is becoming demystified gradually, it seems.
“There seems to be some change in the composition of the soldiers here. Most of them are 30 and above, truly professionals. The incident of begging for tips from motorists has also reduced drastically.
“We just hope they have made adequate safety arrangements for keeping the liberated towns safe.”
***All photos in this post are exclusive to PREMIUM TIMES.