The Nigerian military announced Friday that weapons stolen by Boko Haram fighters last month have been reclaimed, amid the biggest offensive against the Islamist group in its more than five-year history.
Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad have led a massive counterinsurgency operation against Boko Haram this week. Meanwhile, militants have waged gruesome attacks on the Nigerian-Cameroonian border, killing 90 civilians and wounding 500. Militaries from the three countries have reportedly killed hundreds of Islamic fighters.
Boko Haram stole the weapons, some as sophisticated as army tanks, during an attack in early January on Baga, a Nigerian town that sits on the border with Chad. Baga is home to a key multinational military base that monitors cross-border conflict.
After the attack, the purported leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, boasted in a video of the weaponry he now held. He also claimed responsibility for the hundreds killed in Baga and called Nigerian troops cowards.
A Nigerian military spokesperson, Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, said in a statement that the military had reclaimed most of the weapons, including “arms and ammunition, a variety of armored vehicles and artillery guns.”
With Nigeria’s presidential election just over a week away, news of the recovered weapons comes amid mounting success against Boko Haram. Mike Omeri, a Nigerian Army spokesman, told The Associated Press earlier this week that troops had “liberated from Boko Haram presence” more than a dozen towns in the country’s northeast.
Boko Haram fighters have fled to Cameroon where major retaliation attacks are ongoing. Cameroon’s information minister, Issa Tchiroma, told AP that they’ve also burned churches and mosques in addition to looting livestock and food.
The three-nation offensive is just the beginning of a broader counterinsurgency campaign. Troops from other West African countries are expected to join following an African Union (AU) meeting in Cameroon that ends Saturday. At an AU summit in Ethiopia last week, African leaders decided to send 7,500 troops to help fight Boko Haram.
France has sent military advisers to Niger's southern border with Nigeria to help coordinate military action, a French Army official said Thursday.
The UN Security Council has commended the ongoing offensive, specifically pointing to the Chadian Army's swift assistance which led to the recovery of militant-controlled territory, AP reports.
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s influential Council of State announced Thursday that it would stick with the Feb. 14 election date, putting to rest questions of a possible postponement, the BBC reports. National Security Advisor Sambo Dasuki caused outrage when he called for a delay last month, citing the slow distribution of voter ID cards.
The Nigerian Army also pressed for a delay to allow it more time to eliminate Boko Haram and secure polling stations in country's northeast, where Boko Haram is most active. The proposal infuriated opposition leaders, who accused President Goodluck Jonathan of trying to buy time for himself in the closely contested campaign against Muhammadu Buhari, a former military leader.