Maiduguri, Nigeria-Nigeria’s army expects to seize Boko Haram’s last few strongholds in the northeast over the next few weeks, the commander in charge of crushing the jihadist group’s seven-year insurgency said on Wednesday.
The army missed a December deadline set by President Muhammadu Buhari to wipe out the group, which wants to set up a caliphate in the area around Lake Chad, but has retaken most of its territory – at one point the size of Belgium.
Major General Lucky Irabor, commander of the operation, said the jihadists were now holed up in a few pockets of the Sambisa forest – where more than 200 girls kidnapped from the town of Chibok in 2014 are believed to be held – and two areas near Lake Chad and would be flushed out “within weeks.”
Despite the set-backs, Boko Haram still manages to stage regular suicide bombings in Nigeria and neighboring Chad, Niger and Cameroon. Since 2009, more than 15,000 people have been killed, 2.3 million displaced and the local economy decimated.
“Almost all of the locations held by the Boko Haram terrorists have been reclaimed. We are talking only of a few villages and towns,” Irabor said at his base in Maiduguri in Borno state, birth place of the insurgency.
Much of the success is down to better military cooperation with Nigeria’s neighbors, especially Chad, whose forces have been attacking Boko Haram fighters fleeing across the border.
“There are joint operations. My commanders have an exchange with local commanders across the borders. Because of the collaborations we’ve had Boko Haram has been boxed in and in a few weeks you will hear good news,” he said.
He said the jihadists, who pledged loyalty to ISIS last year, were still controlling Abadan and Malafatori, two towns near Lake Chad, apart from their main base in the Sambisa forest, south of Maidguri.
The army was planning a new push into Sambisa after abandoning an attempt due to torrential rain, he said.
“Earlier on this year we had a major operation in the Sambisa,” he said. “Gains were made but unfortunately the weather conditions became such that we to pull out waiting for more favorable conditions.”
He said the army had rescued some 20,000 people from Boko Haram, a fraction of the 2.2 million UNICEF said last week remained trapped in the region around Lake Chad.