Nigeria military retakes Boko Haram town: Is the tide turning?

Nigerian forces report that they have recaptured Baga, the site of one of Boko Haram's deadliest attacks. Is Boko Haram on the run or getting ready to strike back?

Bate Felix/Reuters
A Cameroonian soldier stands guard at an observation post on a hill in the Mandara Mountain chain in Mabass, overlooking Nigeria.

On Saturday, Nigeria’s armed forces announced on their Twitter page that they re-captured the town of Baga from Boko Haram, a terrorist organization which has claimed thousands of lives since gaining power in 2009.

The official Twitter account of the Nigerian Armed Forces tweeted:

"We have secured Baga. We are now in full control. There are only mopping up exercises left to do," Defense Spokesman Major-General Chris Olukolade told Reuters. Olukolade also said that "a large number of terrorists had drowned in Lake Chad" as troops advanced on Baga.

Baga – as well as 12 of its neighboring settlements and a multi-national military base – were overtaken by Boko Haram soldiers on Jan. 3. During the following five days, the militants burned most of the area to the ground and killed hundreds of people, making it one of the organization’s most deadly attacks. Taking command of the area gave the group strategic access to three borders of the Borno State, including Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.

Earlier this week, Nigeria’s military also announced the use of air and ground strikes to recapture Monguno, a garrison town about 40 miles away from Baga, reported The Guardian of Nigeria, which made their follow-up push on Baga expected.

Nigerian forces have also been joined by soldiers from Chad, Niger, and Cameroon as the group posed an increasing threat to regional security. This past week the U.S. launched its annual military training in Chad, where 1,300 participants from 28 countries joined counter-terrorism forces from the U.S. and other Western countries, which have pledged to support Nigeria as it continues to battle Boko Haram.

With multi-national support and recent victories, is the tide finally turning?

It may be too early to tell. Boko Haram continues to occupy a large territory, roughly the size of Belgium. Last week the militants pushed into Chad, killing about 10 civilians before being pushed back by the Chad military, making it the first lethal attack on Chad. The Boko Haram attack was most likely in retaliation to Chad joining the fight against the jihadist group.

Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, addressed Chadian President Idriss Déby in a video he released on Monday:

"Your alliance will not achieve anything,” he said. “Amass all your weapons and face us. We welcome you."

By some estimates, more than 13,000 people have been killed by Boko Haram since 2009, and more than a million have been displaced. But now, the militant group appears to be on the run  – or strategically regrouping – after joint attacks from national military forces. But Nigeria's Gen. Olukolade sounds confident.

"Not even the strategy of mining over 1,500 spots with land mines on the routes leading to the town could save the terrorists from the aggressive move of advancing troops," Olukolade said, reported Reuters.

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