By David Lewis
Troops from Chad and Niger have freed two towns in northern Nigeria previously held by Boko Haram militants, the first gains made in a joint offensive launched at the weekend, Niger military sources said on Monday.
About 30 Nigerien and Chadian soldiers were injured in fighting over Malam Fatouri and Damasak, a day after thousands of troops crossed the border to retake areas held by the Sunni Islamist group, whose insurgency has forced Nigeria to delay an election and neighbours to mobilise their armies.
“We have kicked the enemy out of these areas and they are now under our control,” one of the military sources said.
Damasak, the town furthest into Nigeria, is 10 km south of the Niger border, where Niger and Chadian troops have been massing in recent weeks ahead of the offensive.
The source said that about 300 Boko Haram militants had been killed in fighting. There was no official confirmation of the toll and it was not possible to verify the figure.
“We had permission from Nigeria for this action,” the source said. There was no immediate comment from Nigeria, which has launched its own offensive against the militants, whose gains forced Nigeria to delay elections that were due in February.
Boko Haram’s 6-year insurgency, who aims to carve out a caliphate in Nigeria’s northeast, has killed thousands. The group has pledged allegiance to Islamic State, which rules a self-declared caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria, according to an audio clip posted online on Saturday.
Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin have this year mobilised forces to help Nigeria defeat the group after it seized swathes of territory and mounting cross-border attacks.
Nigeria and its neighbours have been working to pull together plans and rules of engagement for a regional force of 8,700 troops but cooperation between the region’s armies has been strained at times.