Chad's military used airpower and ground troops to force Boko Haram militants out of a Nigerian border town on Thursday, the first such victory since Chad joined a regional campaign against the jihadist group.
A Nigerian soldier confirmed to the Associated Press that he had witnessed the recapture of Michika, on the Nigeria-Cameroon border. And President Goodluck Jonathan triumphantly claimed victory while on a campaign stop Thursday ahead Nigeria's Feb.14 election. He announced that more towns in the region would soon be liberated.
“We're totally committed to reclaiming our territories and Adamawa will be the first among the three states that we'll soon recover," he said.
The military victory came a day before the Africa Union, which is holding a summit in Ethiopia's capital, urged Nigeria’s neighbors to contribute a 7,500-multinational force to fight Boko Haram, The Wall Street Journal reports.
In a statement, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the chairwoman of the African Union, said the continued attacks were a regional burden.
"I am deeply concerned by the prevailing situation as a result of Boko Haram terrorist activities, including the recent escalation of violence witnessed on the ground. The continued attacks in northeastern Nigeria and the increasing attacks in the Lake Chad Basin, along the border with Chad and Cameroon, and in the northern provinces of that country, have the potential of destabilizing the entire region, with far-reaching security and humanitarian consequences."
The advance of Boko Haram in Nigeria and into neighboring countries has upped the pressure on a reluctant Nigeria to agree to a multinational force.
Progress has been slow: Tensions between Nigeria and its francophone neighbors have delayed the formation of the mooted regional counterterrorism force. With the largest military in West Africa, Nigeria has been hesitant to admit any need for international assistance. Indeed, last week the Nigerian government said it may bring home its soldiers deployed abroad to help fight Boko Haram.
Chad began deploying troops to fight Boko Haram in mid-January after the militant group seized a military base in Nigeria, just across Lake Chad, which separates the two countries. A contingent of soldiers from Chad and Niger, who were part of a cross-border crime fighting unit, were based there at the time.
Thursday was not the first time the border town of Michika has had to be recaptured from Boko Haram. In September, the militants seized the town for a month before Nigerian military jets bombed the area and chased off the group. Yet the Islamist militants returned only weeks later to reclaim control.
Boko Haram has become a point of contention in Nigeria ahead of next month's election. President Jonathan rebutted criticism of the government’s slow military response during his campaign stop on Thursday. “I know the burden I am carrying because of Boko Haram,” he said.
Jonathan faces a serious challenge from Muhammadu Buhari, a retired army general turned candidate.