Nigerian troops fighting the insurgent group, Boko Haram, have reclaimed the town of Baga and other surrounding communities in Borno state after days of fierce fighting, the Nigerian defence headquarters has said.
The Director of Defence Information, Chris Olukolade, a Major General, posted via his twitter handle Saturday, “Troops on Sunday afternoon captured #BAGA after fierce battle with terrorists”.
Mr. Olukolade indicated there were “heavy casualties” in the battle and that mop-up operations were ongoing.
FLASH: Troops have this afternoon captured #BAGA after fierce battle with terrorists. Heavy Casualties. Mopping up ongoing. Details later
— DEFENCE HQ NIGERIA (@DefenceInfoNG) February 21, 2015
Mr. Olukolade later issued a detailed press statement giving details of the Baga operation.
Boko Haram had on January 4 attacked the base of the Multi-National Joint Task Force, MNJTF, in Baga, eventually dislodging the soldiers, in what was said to be one of the fiercest battles in recent times as soldiers battled to hold their grounds without much success.
The terrorist later took over the town. Rights group, Amnesty International, said over 2, 000 people were killed in the attack, a claim denied by the Nigerian military which said the number of people killed did not exceed 150 – including terrorists, soldiers and civilians.
The operation to recapture Baga, Monguno and other territories held by Boko Haram kicked off February 14 as announced by the military in early February – the major reason the security services gave for their demand that presidential and National Assembly elections, earlier billed for February 14, be delayed.
Nigeria’s National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, and the military chiefs had warned that they could not guarantee security if the elections went ahead as planned.
According to details referred to by the Independent National Electoral Commission, the military said it was planning sweeping onslaught against Boko Haram starting February 14, and did not want a distraction.
The military assured that the six-week extension, which will allow time for the operations, will significantly turn the tide in the war against Boko Haram, a pledge re-affirmed by President Goodluck Jonathan during a televised media chat last week.
PREMIUM TIMES had last Saturday reported how the Nigerian security forces launched a huge military campaign to retake a swath of territory in the North East seized by the terror group.
Security sources had told PREMIUM TIMES of a massive deployment of troops and military assets, many of them newly-acquired, in the fight to re-take territories being held by the terrorists.
The operation, our sources said, was being personally led by L.O Adeosun, the General Officer Commanding of the Maiduguri-based 7th Battalion and the Commander of the 5 Brigade, Munguno, a Brigadier general Udoh, Mr. Adeosun, a Major General, was recently posted to Borno after the loss of Baga and Munguno to Boko Haram.
On February 16, the military announced it had reclaimed the town of Monguno and nearby communities after nearly two days of fighting.
Boko Haram had carried out a pre-dawn attack on Monguno, which is about 137 kilometres from Maiduguri, the Borno State capital over three weeks ago.
The takeover of Monguno and other communities brought Boko Haram closer to Maiduguri and the Army successfully repelled the insurgents’ attempts to get into Maiduguri.
On February 19, the military said it has invaded the notorious Sambisa forest base of the terrorists.
Mr. Olukolade had said a concerted air campaign by the Nigerian Air Force was ongoing in the forest to clear the terrorists from their enclaves.
He said air strikes, targeted at the training camps and logistics dumps of the terrorists in Sambisa forests and parts of Gwoza were “highly successful”.
He said a high death rate was recorded on the side of the terrorists while many others were scampering out of the areas invaded by the military.
The Nigerian military has been sternly criticised for not going after Boko Haram militants despite knowing their major bases.
The new strikes has however raised concerns over the safety of over 200 school girls believed to be held in the Sambisa area by the insurgent group since April 14 last year.
The girls were abducted from their hostel at Government Secondary School Chibok in Borno State.
The military had said in the past it was avoiding an all-out battle on the Sambisa enclave for the sake of the girls’ safety.