Thursday, February 5, 2015

Chad retakes border town in Nigeria

Chad’s government said this week that its military had retaken a border town in Nigeria from the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, suggesting that momentum in the nearly six-year war against the group may finally be shifting.

Chad said that its forces had been attacked Tuesday along the Cameroon-Nigeria border and that they responded by crossing the frontier into the Nigerian town Gamboru Ngala, which has been held for months by Boko Haram.

The Islamists were “completely wiped out” there, with the death of nine Chadian soldiers and “more than 200” on the Boko Haram side, according to a statement from the Chadian government.

The Chadian incursion into Nigeria in pursuit of Boko Haram, its second in less than a week, underscores the failure of Nigeria’s own military to take on the Islamists despite years of civilian massacres by the militants in the country’s northeast.

Here in Nigeria’s capital, officials this week have largely denied, ignored or minimized Chad’s new role in the fight on Nigerian soil. The African Union has endorsed the creation of a 7,500-member regional force to fight the Islamists and aid Nigeria’s faltering military.

But it is the Chadians — whose soldiers played a critical role in chasing Al Qaeda’s African affiliate from Mali, in partnership with the French, two years ago — who have so far taken the lead.

Western diplomats here, exasperated by Nigeria’s ineffectual response so far, said the new Chadian presence could be a “game changer” in the fight against Boko Haram, as one put it.

“As usual, they are doing the job,” a Western diplomat said in a text message about the Chadians. “Above all with their planes, and their helicopters, and since the 20th of January.”

On Wednesday, the remaining militants in the Gamboru area counterattacked, crossing the bridge from Gamboru into the Cameroon border town Fotokol, where they killed many civilians before being pushed back by the Chadian and Cameroonian military forces, according to a Chadian military official.

A north Cameroon newspaper, L’Oeil du Sahel, reported Wednesday that “Boko Haram perpetrated a massacre at Fotokol. Dozens of people were slaughtered, in the mosques, in their houses, killed in the streets.”

Chad has an interest in the Boko Haram fight on economic as well as security grounds. Many goods into the landlocked country are shipped up from the port at Douala in Cameroon through that country’s narrow northern neck, an area that has been ravaged for over a year by Boko Haram incursions from neighboring northeastern Nigeria.

“Chad’s forces are determined to crush this force of evil,” Chad’s information minister, Hassan Sylla Bakari, said Wednesday. “We are absolutely determined because Boko Haram is a threat to the entire subregion. They want to asphyxiate the Chadian economy by blocking our outlets in Nigeria and Cameroon.”
New York Times

Related story: Chad military forces enter Nigeria to fight Boko Haram

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