- Thousands flee to Cameroon
- Fighter jet pounds insurgents’ base
- Confusion over status of 500 Nigerian troops
From Mustapha Isah Kwaru, Maiduguri with agency report
Reports were rife yesterday that the Boko Haram insurgents made further advances in their territorial expansion, by allegedly taking over Gamboru-Ngala, a key township on the border between Nigeria and Cameroon.
But the Nigerian military has dispelled the report, saying soldiers have repelled the militants who were trying to enter the country through Gamboru-Ngala.
The attack on the Borno town allegedly forced thousands of people to flee to neighboring Cameroon border yesterday, after a fresh assault, suggesting that the militants are striking at will.
Many local residents sought refuge across the border in the north Cameroon town of Fotokol, where troop reinforcements were being sent, a security service source told AFP.
The attack on Gamboru Ngala comes after the town was almost entirely destroyed in May, in a devastating assault that also left more than 300 people killed and prompted outrage at the lack of military response.
Yesterday’s attack by a heavily armed contingent of the terror sect marked the second time Boko Haram fighters targeted and seized parts of the town.
In the latest operation, the insurgents first attacked and sacked an army barracks in Ngala before proceeding to Gamboru about three kilometers away. The sect took over the town allegedly without resistance from Nigerian troops.
Responding to the attacks, the Nigerian Air Force jet later dropped a massive bomb in the middle of Gamboru, after hovering for several minutes in the air. The jet then left, while the militants began a house-to-house raid in the town.
A contingent of Nigerian troops was later seen amassing close to a bridge earlier destroyed by insurgents during their first attack on Gamboru.
A security source told newsmen that Boko Haram desperately wants to seize full control of Gamboru-Ngala because the extensive area offers great strategic advantages.
“If they completely capture the township, Boko Haram will be able to use it to transact economic and military business,” said the source.
He further explained, “The township will enable them (to) freely move arms into Nigeria in order to fortify their control of the seized territories they have declared an Islamic Caliphate.”
Consequent upon attacks by the insurgents, some 500 Nigerian troops have reportedly fled to neighboring Cameroon in the wake of fierce clashes with Boko Haram militants.
“They fled after running out of ammunition following clashes with Boko Haram,” a Nigerian security official told Anadolu Agency, requesting anonymity.
He alleged that fleeing soldiers had taken temporary refuge at schools in the area.
Last week, at least three people were killed and 15 abducted in a fresh cross-border raid by Boko Haram into northern Cameroon.
However, the Defence headquarters, in its response to Nigerian soldiers found in Cameroon, in a post on its website, clarified that “the Nigerian troops that were found in Cameroun was as a result of a sustained battle between the troops and the terrorists around the borders with Cameroun which saw the Nigerian troops charging through the borders in a tactical maneuver. “Eventually they found themselves on Cameroonian soil.
“Being allies the normal protocol of managing such incident demanded that the troops submit their weapons in order to assure the friendly country that they were not on a hostile mission.
“Following necessary discussions between Nigerian and Cameroonian military authorities, the issues have been sorted out. Subsequently, the troops are on their way back to join their unit in Nigeria.
“The reference to the incidence, as a defection, is therefore not appropriate considering the discussion between the two countries’ military leadership and the series of contacts with the soldiers who have confirmed that they are safe.
“Meanwhile, troops are repelling a group of terrorists who are trying to enter the country through Gamboru-Ngala. A group of them who fizzled into the town are being pursued,” the military disclosed.
In a video released on Sunday, the insurgent leader, Abubakar Shekau, stated that his group did not recognise Nigeria. Instead, he declared that the sect had established a caliphate.
Residents said yesterday’s attack began at about 5:30 a.m., with the extremists launching coordinated strikes on the main police station and a military base, known as the Harmony Camp.
“The sounds (of gunfire) became more deafening as police and soldiers responded to Boko Haram,” said a witness, Hamisu Lawan. “Most of our people have fled into Cameroon.”
Others locked themselves in their homes, voicing fears that the militants would turn their guns on civilians once they had overrun the police station and military camp.
Residents in Fotokol, which is separated from Gamboru-Ngala by a river, also reported “intense” fighting throughout the morning. “(Cameroonian) soldiers are at the bridge,” one said.
Cameroon said on August 18 that it had closed its vast border with Nigeria to guard against the spread of Ebola, which has caused five deaths in the country’s financial capital, Lagos, in the southwest.
But few believed that Cameroon had the resources needed to seal all the possible crossing points along the roughly 1,600-kilometre (1,000-mile) frontier.
Local officials and residents in Borno say Boko Haram may be in control of a key road that connects Gamboru-Ngala to the state capital, Maiduguri.
Some Nigerian troops stationed in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, have refused to deploy to retake Gwoza because of what they say are sub-standard weapons that leave them at the mercy of the better-equipped rebels.
Defence analysts have also argued that Nigeria needs to improve its counter-insurgency strategy and adapt to guerrilla fighting rather than relying on conventional means.
Others complain of a lack of political will to properly tackle Boko Haram, which wants to establish a controversial Islamic state.