Nigerian forces backed by air strikes seized the northeastern border town of Baga from Islamist group, Boko Haram on Saturday, the military said, a significant victory in an offensive against an insurgency affecting four African states.
Retaking the town at Nigeria’s border with Chad, Niger and Cameroon, was one of several in the past two weeks, and particularly important as Baga was the headquarters of a multinational force of troops from all four countries.
The militants had claimed a 3 January attack that killed scores, possibly hundreds, and left the jihadists in control.
“We have secured Baga. We are now in full control. There are only mopping up exercises left to do,” Defense Spokesman Major-General Chris Olukolade said by telephone.
In a statement minutes earlier Olukolade had said that “a large number of terrorists had drowned in Lake Chad”, as troops advanced on Baga.
The Islamist fighters appear to be on the run in many parts of Nigeria and regions near its borders, after being subjected to a major offensive on all sides, although they have seemed defeated in the past only to bounce back deadlier than ever.
“Not even the strategy of mining over 1,500 spots with land mines on the routes leading to the town could save the terrorists from the aggressive move of advancing troops,” Olukolade had said in a statement earlier in the day.
Successes in pushing back Boko Haram are welcome news for Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan as he faces an election on 28 March, that was delayed by six weeks on the grounds that more time was needed to fight the insurgency.
The poll, however, also provides a strong motive for the government and military to talk up successes.