The Nigerian military has announced a successful operation to disable four Boko Haram female suicide bombers, in which soldiers were forced to disarm and arrest two other women, one holding a baby.
Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper reports that the soldiers followed a tip that Boko Haram would be sending more female suicide bombers out of their stronghold, the Sambisa Forest, in the nation’s north. “During the incident, two women and a baby from Ngawafete village were arrested after the blast as they were seen approaching Madiyari village,” the military announced. The report does not clarify whether the four girls or women arrested as would-be suicide bombers were related to the two women arrested, one of which was carrying an infant.
The arrest is part of a larger effort on the part of the Nigerian military naed “Operation Lafiya Dole.” The operation demands soldiers enter the dense forest and begin attacking clusters of Boko Haram terrorists hiding there. In one such attack, the military claims it liberated “more than 1000 hostages” being kept in the forest.
In another, the Nigerian military claimed in a statement, soldiers shut down an entire bomb-making camp in the forest. Army Spokesman Col. Sani Usman told the Leadership newspaper that the soldiers were unable to make any arrests, as “most of the gunmen manning the factory… were killed” by improvised bombs detonated by Nigerian army troops.
“It will recalled that despite their defeat, the terrorists continued to attack innocent citizens, military and soft targets through vehicular and human borne IED attacks despite ongoing clearance of the remnants of the Boko Haram terrorists, they persistently hid the IED manufacturing factories location,” Usman told the newspaper, reiterating the official government line that the war against the Islamic State-affiliated terrorist group has actually been over since December 2015.
President Muhammadu Buhari announced that Nigeria had “won the war against Boko Haram” in December, citing a significant reduction in the number of horseback village raids by the group. Adapting to the assaults by Nigerian officials, Boko Haram terrorists have increased their use of female suicide bombers to target mosques and densely-populated markets in Maiduguri, the capital of northeast Borno state. Some suicide bombers have been found to be as young as twelve years old.
The result of the heightened campaign using female captives is a lack of willingness to help women who escape Boko Haram by locals who are aware of how often these women are carrying explosives on their bodies. Women who escape often find their communities shun them, calling them an “epidemic” and fearing that they will kill their former neighbors.
Nigeria provides few resources for escaped Boko Haram captives. Most are being held in refugee camps in Maiduguri or elsewhere in Borno, forbidden from returning to their villages, left in ruins by Boko Haram raids. Few women escape, using tactics such as feigning mental illness to convince the terrorists they are a liability if not freed. Most of those in refugee camps have either fled without being captured of have been freed in Nigerian military raids, like the alleged thousand freed this weekend.
Operation Lafiya Dole continues on its way. Usman, the army spokesman, says finding Boko Haram terrorists has become easier as they resort to hiding in “foxholes” built in captured villages. Lafiya Dole theater commander Maj.-Gen. Lucky Irabor says soldiers have infiltrated the Sambisa Forest deeper than before. “The troops are deep into the forest to smoke out Boko Haram terrorists,” Maj.-Gen. Irabor told Nigeria’s Leadership, alleging that operations had also killed an unnamed Boko Haram “leader.”
Irabor is encouraging Boko Haram terrorists to surrender. Jihadis handing over their weapons “would be humanely treated in line with international best practices and in accordance with the international humanitarian law,” he said in a statement. The Nigerian government recently opened a rehabilitation facility for former Boko Haram terrorists in which residents would be taught basic trades, so as to encourage them to work for a living rather than rely on Boko Haram for food and shelter. The government has yet to establish an equivalent facility for rescued female captives looking to start their own businesses after their husbands were killed by the group.