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Nigeria Scores Rare Victory Against Boko Haram
A mass surrender in a strategic fishing village indicates Buhari’s counterterrorism might have hope afterall.
In the largest surrender since Boko Haram launched their violent insurgency in northeast Nigeria in 2009, at least 200 extremists gave themselves up to the Nigerian Army in Banki, a fishing town on the border with Cameroon, the Nigerian Army declared Friday.
The military’s official Twitter handle announced the news using #OperationLafiyaDole, which translates roughly from Hausa as “Peace with Force.”
According to Nigerian newspaper the Daily Trust, Army spokesman Colonel Sani Usman said the town was liberated from Boko Haram control Thursday by a joint effort of the Nigerian Air Force and the Cameroonian Army. The two militaries are working alongside troops from Benin, Chad, and Niger to beat back the extremists, who have killed more than 17,000 people and displaced millions more since launching their local reign of terror six years ago. The U.S. and France have contributed to the task force’s fight by providing training and intelligence, but have not answered Nigerian requests for military equipment. The United States is reluctant to provide arms due to repeated human rights violations by the Nigerian military while conducting counterterror operations.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who took over the presidency from Goodluck Jonathan in May, ran on a platform of increased security. In August, after naming a number of new military chiefs, he gave his troops an ambitious ultimatum to extinguish the extremists in just three months. Although the military hasn’t made significant progress since those instructions last month, winning back Banki is a critical success.
The Nigerian army said soldiers in Banki destroyed a number of improvised explosive devices, as well as seven different camps belonging to the extremists. The army underscored the strategic importance of the town’s recapture. “It is important to note that major economic and trading activities between Nigeria, Cameroon and Central African countries take place in the town,” Usman said in a statement late Thursday.
The liberation of Banki is particularly significant because Boko Haram extremists have gained momentum in large part by interrupting the fish trade between countries in the Lake Chad basin.
Earlier this year, Niger banned the cross-border fish trade with Nigeria after militants took advantage of trucks carrying fish to travel discretely between the countries. The ban on the trade, though deemed necessary for security purposes, hammered the local economy. And according to Toby Lanzer, the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General who coordinates humanitarian services in the Sahel, fishermen aren’t alone. Lanzer tweeted Thursday that more than 70 percent of Nigerian and Cameroonian farmers living in areas affected by Boko Haram have been forced away from their fields and will miss the next harvest because of the group.
In the months leading up to Nigeria’s presidential election in March, the army claimed a number of major successes that were later disputed by Chadian forces, who claimed they were not adequately supported by the Nigerian army.
ALI KAYA/AFP/Getty Images