The Nigerian military has once again braved Boko Haram territory in the Sambisa Forest. The result? They reportedly rescued another 234 women and girls, rising the total rescue count to over 677 this week.
Nigerian ground troops have hit hard in the forest, believed to be one of Boko Haram’s remaining strongholds. With the rescues making the news multiple times in the past week, it raises the question of why the strong push now, and will the military continue until Boko Haram is no longer a threat?
The army announced the rescue of the 234 women, which occurred on Thursday, on the official Twitter account of the Nigerian Army this Saturday.
The rescue comes only days after another rescue, during which troops rescued 160 women and girls. Earlier this week, troops rescued around 300 individuals. All of the rescues were part of military offense that began this Monday. The targeted area is the Sambisa Forest, a 23,000-mile dense forest area (roughly the size of West Virginia) that is difficult to navigate.
"The assault on the forest is continuing from various fronts and efforts are concentrated on rescuing hostages of civilians and destroying all terrorist camps and facilities in the forest," said Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, reported The Associated Press.
As of now, it does not appear that any of the rescued women and girls were part of the 260 Chibok hostages, whose abduction sparked international outcry, as well as the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. Nearly a year ago, the US criticized the Nigerian government for their insufficient rescue efforts, claiming their military forces had become “afraid to even engage” in the battle against Boko Haram.
So why now?
Perhaps recent victories have emboldened the Nigerian army. Neighboring countries and towns have also had success in recapturing territory from the militant group in northeast Nigeria. President Goodluck Jonathan, whose term ends at the end of May, pledged on Thursday to “hand over a Nigeria completely free of terrorist strongholds.”
Incoming president Muhammadu Buhari, a former military general who will take office May 29, said he will “stamp out Boko Haram,” reported The Christian Science Monitor. And with the Sambisa Forest reportedly being the last stronghold of the militant group, there are indications that the militant group is on the run.
But war is not over yet. Boko Haram continues to attack and kill civilians and towns, and their extremist ideology remains. During the rescue of the women, it is reported that some of the women fought back against their rescuers. Reports indicate that it is not known whether some of the women rescued this week voluntarily joined Boko Haram, if they are family members of militants, or if they were simply being used as human shields against the forces, reported The Associated Press.
After months of captivity and, in some cases, forced marriages, some of the women identify with the extremist group's ideologies. Overall, the women and girls look physically healthy, although there are some signs of malnourishment.
Al Jazeera reported that Nigeria's military says it has flown in medical and intelligence teams to screen the rescued girls and women and find out their identities. Amnesty International asked the government to act quickly, "to ensure that the trauma of those 'rescued' is not exacerbated by lengthy security screening in detention."