The Nigerian army announced Sunday night that it succeeded in freeing 178 Boko Haram hostages, including 101 children, captured a commander of the radical Islamist group, and destroyed several rebel camps during a military operation.
Last week, the army reported having rescued another 71 kidnapped people in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, including 66 women and children.
The Nigerian military said Sunday that it had led airstrikes on the village of Bitta, near the border with Cameroon and not far from the forest of Sambisa, where Boko Haram was preparing to launch an offensive. “Many” of the Islamist militants were killed, the military said, without elaborating.
According to Tukur Gusau, an army spokesman, the Nigerian army led an offensive towards Aulari on the axis leading to Bama, 50 miles south of Maiduguri, capital of Borno state and the largest city in the Northeast.
“During this operation, 178 people held hostage by terrorists were saved, including 101 children, 67 women and 10 men,” he said in a statement.
The Nigerian military had already announced having released hundreds of women and children held captive by Boko Haram in recent months, especially in the Sambisa forest, an Islamic State stronghold.
Earlier this week, the army said it had released 30 hostages, including 21 children and seven women near Dikwa, 55 miles east of Maiduguri, and 59 hostages, including 29 women and 25 children, during another operation near Konduga, a city also located on the axis that connects Maiduguri to Bama.
Islamist attacks have continued this weekend, as well, in Borno state, with 13 people shot dead on Saturday night in Malari, a village near Konduga.
The assailants, most likely having emerged from the Sambisa forest, burned houses and shops in the village in what looked like a “revenge mission,” according to a witness.
Aproximately 15,000 have died due to Boko Haram uprisings since 2009.
Boko Haram violence has risen sharply in the northeast of Nigeria since the May 29 inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari, who promised to make the fight against the Islamists a priority for his administration. In two months, more than 800 people have been killed there.
Buhari has vowed to crush the group, and a multinational joint taskforce made up of 8,700 troops from Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Chad, and Benin is being set up in the Chadian capital N’Djamena to directly confront Boko Haram.
Boko Haram violence has spread to neighboring Chad and Cameroon, which have suffered from deadly suicide bombings on their soil. As a result, the Parliament of Chad has reinstated the death penalty, which had been abolished just six months ago.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.