Nigerian security forces on Saturday launched a huge military campaign to retake a swath of territory in the North East seized by the terror group, Boko Haram, security officials and government sources told PREMIUM TIMES.
Ground forces, backed by several fighter jets, deployed early Saturday, are advancing to recapture Monguno, the first in a list of at least 14 towns held by the insurgent group in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.
The operations kicked off February 14 as announced by the military a week ago – the major reason the security services gave for their demand that presidential and National Assembly elections, earlier billed for that day, 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 was planning sweeping onslaught against Boko Haram starting February 14, and did not want a distraction.
It is not clear why the date of start of the campaign was publicised. Security experts believe that might have tipped off the insurgents who might be laying in ambush for the troops.
The military has assured that the six-week extension, which will allow time for the massive 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 on Wednesday.
Security sources told PREMIUM TIMES of a massive deployment of troops and military assets, many of them newly-acquired, in the fight to re-take Monguno. Several fighter jets were also on hand for air cover, they said.
The operation, our sources said, is 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.
The Director of Defence Information, Chris Olukolade, a Major General, confirmed the commencement of the massive operation, but declined further details.
Monguno fell alongside Baga in early January after Boko Haram fighters overran the town and killed about 2,000 people, according to Amnesty International.
The start of the fighting Saturday coincided with a fresh Boko Haram attack in Gombe, in the heart of the North East, in what was the first direct attempt by the insurgents to take the city.
There had been gun and bomb attacks on the city, but fighting was concentrated mostly in the suburb but they were mostly bomb attacks and an attempt to seize Ashaka Cement plant, where insurgents seized explosives.
Military authorities say Saturday’s attack has now been repelled.