Several camps of Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) jihadists have been overrun by Nigerian troops backed by jets, leadiing to two senior commanders of the insurgent group fleeing after several other ranking militants were killed.
This was disclosed by military sources, which also revealed that troops overran ISWAP camps located in an area straddling Yobe and Borno states after a month-long military operation.
TheFact Nigeria learnt that the onslaughts by the troops have been ongoing even as President Muhammadu Buhari replaced his four top military commanders following months of pressure over his government’s failure to end the country’s over ten-year Islamist insurgency.
On Wednesday, soldiers aided by fighter jets overran Dole camp, the last jihadist stronghold in the so-called “Timbuktu triangle”, leaving to whole area “now under the effective control of Nigerian troops”, an officer said.
The jihadists have been in control of the area since 2013 when they seized it and established a strong presence, especially in the Talala area, which became the second largest ISWAP camp outside the group’s Lake Chad stronghold.
Last month troops took over Talala after a fierce engagement with the Insurgents, that saw the loss of six soldiers, killed by a suicide bomber who detonated his explosive-laden vehicle among troops, military confirmed.
“It was a tough battle,” said the second source on the Dole raid. “The route leading to Dole was mined by the terrorists and troops accessed it on foot, engaging the terrorists in fierce battle with air support,” he said. He revealed that several hostages were rescued from the camps while dozens of vehicles seized from kidnapped hostages were recovered.
The source also revealed that the two high profile ISWAP commanders, Modu Sulum and Ameer Modu Borzogo, fled along with some fighters during intense fighting, while other commanders were killed. Escaping fighters were believed to have fled to Lake Chad, which straddles Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon, and where the group maintains camps on the islands dotting the freshwater lake.
In another development, troops reclaimed five camps from the jihadists in Kidari, Argude, Takwala, Chowalta and Galdekore villages where the jihadists used suicide bombers to stave off troops advance.
“We lost some soldiers and several were injured in the suicide attack but the soldiers managed to subdue the terrorists,” said the second source, but did not give details of the casualties.
ISWAP split from mainstream Boko Haram in 2016 and became a dominant group, launching attacks on military bases and ambushing troops while abducting travellers at bogus checkpoints.
Last week Buhari appointed new military chiefs, raising hopes of Nigerians of a change in military strategy to end the 12-year old conflict that has led to the loss of about 36,000 lives and rendered around two million homeless.