May 18, 2013 | 2:03 pm
KANO – Residents of an insurgent stronghold in northeast Nigeria fled
their homes Saturday as military fighter
jets and helicopters carried out heavy
air strikes on Boko Haram Islamist
Nigeria launched a massive offensive
against Boko Haram this week,
deploying several thousand troops
across three states where President
Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of
emergency after the Islamists seized
territory and chased out the
Dozens of insurgents have been killed
in the fighting, the military has said,
without offering a specific figure.
A security source who requested
anonymity told AFP that a helicopter
was hit by Boko Haram gunfire, but
“managed to rush back to base without
sustaining any casualty.”
Nigeria’s offensive is targeting all three
states put under emergency decree,
including Adamawa and Yobe, but the
Boko Haram’s traditional base of Borno
is expected to see the most intense
In Marte district of Borno state, some
residents have started fleeing east
towards the Cameroon border, less
than 25 kilometres (15.5 miles) away.
“It has been scary in the past three
days,” said Buba Yawuri, whose home is
in the town of Kwalaram in Marte but
who has fled to the border town
“Fighter jets and helicopters kept
hovering in the sky and we kept
hearing huge explosions from afar,” he
He said that as the air assaults began,
the security forces told all residents to
stay indoors, cutting off his family’s
access to food and water.
“I couldn’t hold on any longer. I took
the bush path,” and reached Gomboru
Ngala early Saturday, he said.
Shafi’u Breima, a resident of Gomboru
Ngala, told AFP that the border town is
receiving a continuous flow of people
arriving from Marte and neighbouring
The phone network in Borno state has
all but collapsed since the emergency
measures were imposed but residents
in Gomboru Ngala use phone services
from Cameroon and have been
The remote, thinly populated region
has porous borders where criminal
groups and weapons have flowed freely
The military has sealed previously
unguarded crossings to block Boko
Haram fighters from fleeing during the
“Border posts have all been manned by
security agents to prevent escape or
infiltrations by insurgents,” a military
Reports of Boko Haram’s presence in Cameroon first emerged in February, following the kidnap there of a French family visiting a game park near the
The abduction was claimed by Boko
Haram and the family was released in April.
The latest military campaign could
prove to be the biggest ever against
Boko Haram and is believed to be the
first time Nigeria has carried out air
strikes within its own territory in more
than 25 years.
Aeriel support was believed to have
been used against rioters in the north in the early 1980s.
Many have warned that there is a risk of high civilian deaths and Nigeria’s military has been accused of massive rights violations in the past, including
indiscriminate attacks on civilians.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that he was “deeply concerned
about the fighting in northeastern Nigeria” and urged the security forces to “apply disciplined use of force in all operations.”
Boko Haram has said it is fighting to create an Islamic state in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north, but the group’s demands have repeatedly shifted.
The conflict is estimated to have cost
3,600 lives since 2009, including
killings by the security forces.
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