Friday, February 20, 2015

In Nigeria, Boko Haram Loses Ground to Chadians
New York Times
FEB. 18, 2015

DAKAR, Senegal — Chad’s army has made its deepest push yet into Nigeria in a three-front regional war against Boko Haram, entering a town 50 miles from a beleaguered Nigerian state capital that has been surrounded for months by the militant group, Nigerian security officials said Wednesday.

Chadian soldiers fought their way on Tuesday into the town of Dikwa, which had been in militant hands for at least the last five months, and to an important spot on the road between Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, and the Cameroonian border.

At the same time, the Nigerian Army was reported to have recaptured the nearby garrison town of Monguno, from which 1,000 of its soldiers fled the month before in the face of a Boko Haram attack.

The Nigerian Army had no official comment on the Chadian advance, but Chadian state television made note of it Wednesday evening, saying there had been heavy losses on the Boko Haram side in the fight for Dikwa, and that two Chadian soldiers had been killed.

A ranking official in Maiduguri — the Borno State governor’s security adviser, Hussaini Monguno — confirmed that the Chadians “have advanced to Dikwa.” A Nigerian military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also confirmed the advance into the town. The Chadian push has become a sensitive point for the Nigerian military, which has admonished journalists for highlighting it.

Analysts have cautioned that it is too soon to say whether the new Chadian offensive will turn the tide against a terrorist group that has successfully held the Nigerian Army at bay for nearly six years, has captured significant territory in the northeast, and is practiced at fading back into the bush when confronted with superior firepower.

And Boko Haram’s campaign of violence against civilians continues unabated: On Tuesday, a suicide bomber killed at least 36 in the Borno town of Biu. The group’s presumed leader, Abubakar Shekau, pledged in a newly released video to disrupt coming elections in Nigeria. On Saturday, the militants attacked the town of Gombe, dropping leaflets that warned people not to vote.

The push by the Chadians is a rare occasion in which a military force has gone on the offensive against Boko Haram in the six-year insurgency. The Chadian Army is experienced in antiterrorist operations in semidesert territory, like the kind encountered in Boko Haram’s heartland.

The new push against Boko Haram comes at a critical time in the political fortunes of the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, whose failure to end the insurgency was expected to weigh heavily against him on Election Day. The vote has already been postponed once, in part, analysts said, because Mr. Jonathan’s prospects were so shaky. Elections are now set for March 28.

In a separate episode, officials in Niger said that a plane bombed a group of mourners in the border village of Abadam, mistaking them for a Boko Haram cell.

The plane “did not take off from either Niger or Chad,” a leading regional official said. The Nigerian military denied responsibility, though refugees from Nigeria have in the past complained of indiscriminate bombing raids by the country’s military.

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