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Boko Haram hits Nigerian town hard despite multinational offensive

The militant Islamist group killed 68 in Njaba, but has suffered setbacks in some areas after Nigeria teamed up with other West African countries to launch air and ground attacks. 

Madjiasra Nako/Reuters
Chadian soldiers walk in front of a building that Boko Haram insurgents used as their base before being driven out by the Chadian military in Dikwa March 2, 2015. Chadian troops have driven Boko Haram militants out of the northeast Nigerian town of Dikwa, losing one soldier in the battle, an army spokesman said on Monday.

Boko Haram fighters killed 68 people during an attack on the Nigerian town of Njaba, showing their ability to mount large-scale attacks despite a growing multinational military effort to check their advance. 

The insurgents started shooting into houses in the northeastern town in the early hours of Tuesday, a military source told Reuters. News of the attack only started trickling in days later because Boko Haram had previously disabled cellphone towers in the area. 

“Some of us were very lucky to run and hide,” Babagana Aji, who witnessed the attack, told The Wall Street Journal, adding that the Islamist militants killed indiscriminately and burned down houses. The Nigerian Army said it was in pursuit of the militants.

In recent weeks Boko Haram has pulled out of numerous towns in Nigeria in the face of ground and air attacks by a multinational force comprising troops from Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Benin. 

Nigeria’s Air Force chief told a senate committee on defense Thursday that the campaign in the northeast had completely destroyed Boko Haram’s stronghold in the region.

“It is very clear that by our efforts, we have been able to disrupt their communication lines,” Adesola Amosu said. “The command and control is substantially damaged.”

On Wednesday, Chad’s President Idriss Deby called on Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, to surrender, and claimed he knew his whereabouts.

The Nigerian Army repelled an attack on the town of Ngamdu in Yobe state on Thursday, two military sources told Reuters, though they were unable to determine the number of casualties.

Previous Nigerian claims of victories against Boko Harem have proven overly optimistic. And it's unclear how effective the current anti-insurgency campaign has been in degrading the group's operational capabilities. 

Many fighters have fled into neighboring countries like Cameroon, which have seen an uptick in militant attacks.

Foreign Policy reports that Boko Haram has started using the borders around Lake Chad as financial checkpoints to exact revenue:

E.J. Hogendoorn, deputy program director for Africa at the International Crisis Group, said his organization has heard credible reports from herders, fishermen, and farmers about taxes Boko Haram imposes at various trade checkpoints.

“If you live in those areas, you have three choices: You can flee, leaving everything you’ve built up behind; you can choose to pay the extortionate fees that Boko Haram militants impose; or you can die,” he said.

So when locals like the fishmongers bombed on the Niger-Nigeria border last week are left with the choice of collaborating with Boko Haram or losing their livelihood, it’s no surprise they would prefer the former.

“Not having the ability to fish or to trade for a couple weeks can really push them over the edge from hunger into something much worse,” Hogendoorn said. 

Pressure is building on Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to rein in Boko Haram ahead of March 28 elections that were postponed from last month. The delay was blamed on security concerns over the insurgency.

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