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International

[ 2015-04-29 ]

Nigeria's army 'rescues 200 girls from Boko Haram stronghold'
Nigeria's army claimed to have rescued almost 300
women and girls on Tuesday after seizing three
"terrorist camps" from the radical Islamists of
Boko Haram.

The army could not confirm whether any of the 219
schoolgirls abducted from the town of Chibok last
April were among the freed captives.

But the apparently successful operation raised
hopes that the children who were seized during
Boko Haram's most notorious raid might be saved.

The army has mounted a counter-offensive against
Boko Haram, seizing back a string of towns and
villages from the gunmen and breaking their grip
over thousands of square miles of territory in the
neighbouring states of Borno and Yobe.

As part of this assault, the army has been trying
to clear Boko Haram from Sambisa forest, a remote
area near Nigeria's north-eastern frontier that
previously served as their stronghold. The
Islamists are known to have established camps and
held captives inside Sambisa forest.

"Troops have this afternoon captured and destroyed
three camps of terrorists inside the Sambisa
forest and rescued 200 girls and 93 women," said a
statement from Chris Olukolade, the Nigerian
defence ministry spokesman.

"It is not yet confirmed if the girls are the
Chibok girls," he added. "The freed persons are
now being screened and profiled."

Nigeria's army has made false claims in the past
about releasing captives from Boko Haram. There
has been no independent confirmation of the
military statement, so it should be treated with
caution.

However, the army's counter-attack has inflicted a
series of defeats on Boko Haram, aided by forces
deployed by neighbouring Chad and Cameroon. In
particular, Nigeria managed to recapture the town
of Gwoza, which Boko Haram had used as their
headquarters.

The army was known to be conducting a sweep
through Sambisa forest, so the latest statement is
consistent with the overall picture.

Boko Haram raided a Christian boarding school in
the town of Chibok on April 14 last year, carrying
away 276 teenage girls. Several dozen managed to
escape in the first hours of their captivity,
leaving 219 in the hands of the Islamist
movement.

Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, later
paraded the girls before a camera, showing that
all were clad in niqabs. He announced their
forcible conversion to Islam and promised that all
would be "sold in the market".

It has not yet been confirmed if any of the girls
rescued are from Chibok

Boko Haram treats women and children as booty of
war and routinely enslaves and sells its captives.
Afterwards, Sambo Dasuki, the Nigerian national
security adviser, said the army believed that the
Chibok girls had been "dispersed and sold" in
accordance with Shekau's threat.

If so, they are unlikely to be among the captives
apparently discovered in Sambisa forest
yesterday.

The fate of the Chibok children caused a global
campaign under the hashtag #bringbackourgirls.
Britain helped the search by temporarily deploying
an RAF reconnaissance aircraft and specialist
advisers in Nigeria.

People demonstrate calling on the Nigerian
government to rescue the Chilbok girls in 2014
(AP)
At that time, searching for the girls did not
appear to be a priority for Nigeria's government
under President Goodluck Jonathan, who lost an
election last month and will leave office in May.
Since last year, however, Nigeria's army has taken
delivery of new weapons and benefited from Western
military advice and intelligence. The British Army
has helped to train companies of Nigerian
infantry. The result is that the army has been
able to carry out an effective counter-offensive
against Boko Haram.
Whether those gains can be held - and the many
thousands of captives released - is still open to
question. Boko Haram recovered from a crushing
defeat in 2009 and may prove able to do so again.

Source - The Telegraph



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