Nigerian forces have announced that a recent airstrike against Boko Haram have left a number of top leaders of the terrorist group dead or fatally wounded. Among them is Abubakar Shekau, infamous head of Boko Haram.
This isn't the first time Nigerian forces have claimed to kill Shekau, however.
The latest airstrikes were carried out in the Sambisa Forest in the northeastern part of the country, where the fighters had evidently gathered for some sort of ceremony, according to Ahmed Idris, a reporter for Al Jazeera.
The 270 Chibok girls were kidnapped from their schools in April of 2014. A recent video of some of the girls confirmed they were with Shekau's faction, as The Christian Science Monitor previously reported.
Col. Sani Kukasheka Usman, a spokesman for the Nigerian Army, said that among the dead were multiple Boko Haram commanders, including Abubakar Mubi, Malam Nuhu and Malam Hamman.
"Their leader, so-called 'Abubakar Shekau', is believed to be fatally wounded on his shoulders," Usman said in a statement, according to Reuters. It is unknown how the army was able to confirm the deaths of the Boko Haram commanders.
This is not the first time Nigerian forces have claimed to have killed Shekau. There have been at least three reports of his death, with some sources citing up to five previous death announcements, according to the BBC. Each time, Shekau has turned up in videos, apparently alive and well, after each announcement.
But the context surrounding Shekau has shifted this time, however. The formerly undisputed leader of the terrorist group was recently replaced with more ISIS-friendly leadership a year after the group pledged its allegiance to the Syrian-based group and changed its name to ISWAP. Shekau, who seems to have favored a more independent vision of Boko Haram, seems to be in charge of only small group of fighters who still refer to themselves by their original name.
Observers don't expect confirmation of Shekau's death from the terrorist group, which only communicates in periodic videos sent to the media.
The reports of the airstrike came as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Nigeria for talks with state officials about the problem of fighting Boko Haram.
The Nigerian government has expressed a desire for the US to sell it military aircraft to assist in the fight against the terrorist group. However, the US withdrew military support from the previous Nigerian government, under Goodluck Jonathan, over concerns about a poor human rights record. The new president, Muhammadu Buhari, is expected to argue that his human rights record has improved enough for the US military to do business with, according to Reuters. In May, US officials told Reuters that the US was willing to sell up to 12 A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft to Nigeria. The US Congress has yet to approve the sale, however.
Whether reports of the airstrike are exaggerated or not, it's likely to be an important topic of conversation for Mr. Kerry and his staff during the Nigeria visit.